1 May, 2018

Global mean temperature indicators linked to warming levels avoiding climate risks


Peter Pfleiderer, Carl-Friedrich Schleussner, Matthias Mengel, Joeri Rogelj

Dried sunflower by roadside, Poland

International climate policy uses global mean temperature rise limits as proxies for societally acceptable levels of climate change. These limits are informed by risk assessments which draw upon projections of climate impacts under various levels of warming. Here we illustrate that indicators used to define limits of warming and those used to track the evolution of the Earth System under climate change are not directly comparable.

Depending on the methodological approach, differences can be time-variant and up to 0.2°C for a warming of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. This might lead to carbon budget overestimates of about 10 years of continued year-2015 emissions, and about a 10% increase in estimated 2100 sea-level rise.

Awareness of this definitional mismatch is needed for a more effective communication between scientists and decision makers, as well as between the impact and physical climate science communities.