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In a new commentary in the journal Nature Climate Change, IIASA researchers argue that a broader range of scenarios is needed to support international policymakers in limiting climate change to under 2°C above pre-industrial levels, and to avoid potential negative environmental and social consequences of carbon dioxide removal on a massive scale.
"Many currently used emissions pathways assume that we can slowly decrease fossil fuel emissions today and make up for it later with heavy implementation of negative emissions technologies," says IIASA Ecosystems Services and Management Program Director Michael Obersteiner, lead author of the article. "This is a problem because it assumes we can put the burden on future generations—which is neither a realistic assumption nor is it morally acceptable from an intergenerational equity point of view."
Researchers - Percent - Scenarios - IPCC - Assessment
The researchers point out that 87 percent of the scenarios in the IPCC 5th Assessment Report that limit climate change to less than 2°C rely heavily on negative emissions in the second half of the century, with most of the carbon dioxide removal coming from a suite of technologies known as Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS). Assuming that it's even possible to deploy BECCS on the scale required (a big question for a technology that has not yet been widely tested or implemented), massive implementation of land-based carbon dioxide removal strategies would have impacts on both the environment and the food system, with previous research showing trade-offs for food security and environmental conservation.
At the same time, reliance on future negative emissions to achieve climate goals may also fail to account for feedbacks in the climate system such as methane release from thawing permafrost, which are not yet fully understood.
"Many of our scenarios do not account for...
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