Thinking ‘outside the box’ on climate mitigation

From the INTERNATIONAL INSTITUTE FOR APPLIED SYSTEMS ANALYSIS and the Schrodinger’s Climate Department

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 the target of 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.”

The researchers point out that 87% 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 the uncertainties related to the climate mitigation process. Are our carbon budget estimates reasonable? Are the technologies going to develop the way we need them to be? Are natural carbon sinks reliable, or might they turn around?” says IIASA researcher Johannes Bednar, a coauthor.

In the article, the researchers present four archetype scenarios that incorporate a broader range of potential mitigation options. These include:

  • Major reliance on carbon dioxide removal in the future, the current archetype of many existing scenarios for achieving the 2°C or more stringent 1.5°C target.
  • Rapid decarbonization starting immediately, and halving every decade as proposed in a recent Science commentary coauthored by IIASA researchers.
  • Earlier implementation of carbon dioxide removal technologies, and phasing out by the end of the century
  • Consistent implementation of carbon dioxide removal from now until the end of the century.

Under all these scenarios, current country commitments under the Paris Agreement would not be sufficient to achieve the required cuts, the researchers say.

The article adds to a large body of significant IIASA research on pathways and scenarios for climate mitigation, as well as integrated research on climate and other sustainable development goals. It also provides a critical look at the current outlook for reaching climate targets.

IIASA researcher Fabian Wagner, another study coauthor adds, “In this paper we have shown that negative emission technologies may not only be an asset but also an economic burden if not deployed with care. We as scientists need to be careful when we communicate to policymakers about how realistic different scenarios might be. When we present scenarios that require the world to convert an amount of land equivalent to all today’s cropland to energy plantations, alarm bells should go off.”



Obersteiner M, Bednar J, Wagner F, Gasser T, Ciais P, Forsell N, Havlik P, Valin H, Janssens IA, Penuelas J, Schmidt-Traub G (2018). How to spend a dwindling greenhouse gas budget. Nature Climate Change doi:10.1038/s41558-017-0045-1

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Greg Woods
January 15, 2018 3:34 pm

How about thinking WAY outside the box

Reply to  Greg Woods
January 15, 2018 5:12 pm

Just thinking, would be a good start. !

Reply to  AndyG55
January 16, 2018 3:28 am

thinking, like “first things first, let’s cope with our current real issues and let future generation manage hypothetic future issue”.
IA disruption is a much closer horizon, a game changer, that will in any case dwarf any hypothetic problem of the next century. It will either destroy us, or give us all we need to cope with these.

Reply to  Greg Woods
January 16, 2018 5:11 am

How about taking a good, hard look at industrial pollution of all kinds in the 19th century, before anyone starts squawking about the dangers of atmospheric carbon?

London’s famous pea-soupers were the result of foggy miasmas from the Thames interacting and combining with natural gas fumes emitted by industry and housing heating and cooking emissions. The last pea-souper occurred in the 1950s.

While we’re at it, let’s look at India’s pollution levels as well as China’s. If we’re going to talk about these things, let’s include the REAL stuff, not the fantastical nonsense that is constantly being brought to the fore.

How were these people planning to control natural carbon production, e.g., volcanic eruptions? There’s a place to start, isn’t it?

Ian Macdonald
Reply to  Sara
January 16, 2018 9:07 am

Natural gas wasn’t used in those days. The cause was sulphur from coal smoke, and to a lesser extent from coal gas.

Reply to  Greg Woods
January 16, 2018 8:51 am

If carbon dioxide can be classified as an air pollutant, then stupid can be classified as a pollutant of thinking.

Rhoda Klapp
January 15, 2018 3:37 pm

We’re going to need a bigger box.

Michael S. Kelly
Reply to  Rhoda Klapp
January 15, 2018 11:43 pm


Reply to  Rhoda Klapp
January 16, 2018 8:56 am

… a bigger box, built from stronger material.

Reply to  Robert Kernodle
January 16, 2018 1:43 pm

In a bigger universe, methinks.
Perhaps standing on the back of some elephants, themselves on the back of a Turtle, genus Astrochelonia . . .

Auto, appreciating more and more the talents [and Genius?? Some thinks so!] of the late Terry Pratchett.

January 15, 2018 3:42 pm

“alarm bells should go off.”

Hello! anyone there? The lights are on but there’s no one in!

WUWT has been bashing Big Ben and the Liberty Bell together for years.

Probably high time alarmist scientists started listening instead of preaching.

January 15, 2018 3:43 pm

I don’t think anyone is monitoring the emissions from the Derwese Doorway to Hell….just sayin’ 🙂

January 15, 2018 3:47 pm

We need to stop thinking Climate Change is about temperature. “They” could care less about future ramifications of abruptly removing fossil fuels as an energy source and in fact it is part of their goal to destroy Capitalism. Why else would the UN turn a blind eye to allowing some countries over others to continue the use of fossil fuels if it would mean destroying the world?

January 15, 2018 3:48 pm

Progressives are Out Of Touch on a Biblical Scale; NAACP Should Demand Re-Direction of Climate Change Funding to Inner-Cities

If you go into a black community and poll the residents, I feel confident that none, not a single resident, would rank preventing climate change as one of their top 10 priorities. The social and economic statics of the black community are horrifying, and yet on MLK day 2018, the NAACP claims that “MLK’s Vision Can’t Be Achieved Without Fighting Global Warming.” This, out of all examples, highlights the complete and absolute corrupting force that Climate Change has become. No example I have found demonstrates that absurdity of Climate Change more than the NAACP betraying those whom they claim to represent, and putting the needs of the Democratic Party above them.

Reply to  co2islife
January 16, 2018 3:32 pm

“Climate change disproportionately affects African Americans”. Can’t wait till the NYT has this headline.

Greg Cavanagh
January 15, 2018 4:11 pm

They first have to demonstrate that CO2 affects atmospheric temperature.
Then demonstrate “how much effect”.
Then demonstrate that a warming world affects the storms and oceans, and how much.
Then do a cost/benefit analysis comparing adaption to mitigation.

Then I’ll have a look at their work.

Greg Woods
Reply to  Greg Cavanagh
January 15, 2018 4:19 pm

I assume you have a lot of patience…

Reply to  Greg Cavanagh
January 15, 2018 4:26 pm

That’s a scientist’s and/or rational lay person’s view. It has no place in this religion I think you’ll find.

Rhoda R
Reply to  Greg Cavanagh
January 15, 2018 5:53 pm

And then they have to explain why the Little Ice Age climate is such a desirable goal.

Reply to  Greg Cavanagh
January 15, 2018 6:13 pm

Clue for you, no policy maker is waiting for your review.

Phillip Bratby
Reply to  Steven Mosher
January 15, 2018 10:18 pm

There you have put your finger on the problem. Policy makers haven’t a clue.

Gunga Din
January 15, 2018 4:17 pm

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…

Laughable. (OOPS! betraying my age. “LOL”)
Might that be because the “long settled science” and the climate models’ projections have been so, so, so wrong in what they said would be happening NOW?
“Global Warming” flew for awhile. Then it stopped (or was at most less than half what said).
Enter “Climate Change”. But still founded on Man’s CO2 causing “Global Warming”.
The USA is the IPCC’s pot of gold, politically and economically.
(Hillary lost. For many reasons. Get over it.)
So now they need a new PR…er…scenario to dupe their “Pot of Gold” into financing its own destruction.
The death of stuff like: “We The People…” and The Bill of Rights and the ideal that both were an attempt to achieve:

When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bonds which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.

Has the UN ever done anything in line with that for us, the US?

Reply to  Gunga Din
January 16, 2018 3:39 pm

Sorry but obvious truth isn’t available now.

Bruce Cobb
January 15, 2018 4:30 pm

We’re more doomed than we thought.

Gary Pearse
January 15, 2018 4:36 pm

“…alarm bells have been going off” since day one and after 40 years of this you are still searching in vain for a clear human caused problem in the noise even when you have persistently loaded the dice to try to create a phony crisis. It really is “much better than we thought.” You are forbidden to allude to the only unequivocal strong signal of human caused change. One we should be rejoicing about.

The greening of the planet and the doubling of harvests has given us abundance, even a a burgeoning obesity epidemic. A 15%expansion of forest cover, largely in arid areas of the globe and with it, fattening of all other trees and plants. Think of it. there are 3 trillion trees on the planet and that , my weary warriors, means at least 450 billion new trees. Because they are small, it probably means a trillion new individuals. The process is logically exponential and exothermic (cooling). It is tantalizing to think, that because of its coincidence with the hiatus in tempe4atures that it could he a significant contributor.

I believe a calculation of the carbon stored would be mind boggling. Over 30 yrs, avg tree perhaps 10 years old, takes in ~0.25tC which for the forest expansion only (450billion) is 110Gt of carbon. For the rest of the world’s greenery, let’s parsimoniously double this to 220Gt and for the oceans – plankton, fatter fish etc, let’s round up to a paltry 350Gt C sequestered in 30 yrs. Now pure Carbon must represent slightly more heat value than anthracite. Can I leave this for homework how much of the sun’s heating has been sequestered?

This development that shocked scientists into silence is because of what it does to the cost -benefit of carbon. Fossil fuel companies should be receiving a dividend. Moreover the agents of doom have not ventured to the next step. This looks a lot like the entrance to theGarden of Eden: peak population, plenty, spread of prosperity and a final burial for Malthusians, and all the other uglinesses of its anti-human weasel, mean folk. So that is Chapter one of my thought book.

Reply to  Gary Pearse
January 15, 2018 11:18 pm

Anyone who thinks it is the end of Malthus should take a trip to a second or third world country.

South Africa currently – in the cape area – doesn’t have enough fresh water for everyone to flush.

whilst its possible that unlimited nuclear power could allow the earth’s population to treble or quadruple, would you actually want to be factory farmed, rather than free range?

Reply to  Leo Smith
January 16, 2018 3:46 pm

And yet with true capitalism they would have all that. And jobs and food. But never mind. Save the planet.

Reply to  Gary Pearse
January 16, 2018 7:26 am

Since the sahel of the Sahara is apparently greening up, after a pause of several thousand years, how much carbon could be sequestered if the entire sahel from Egypt west to the African coast of Morocco and south to the borders of the jungle became not just grassy green plains with lakes and running rivers, but also heavily wooded areas with trees and undergrowth?

What these people are objecting to is a return to the green world that our distant ancestors knew, and yet it’s what they say they want. Anyone besides me see the disconnect?

January 15, 2018 4:40 pm

If you find yourself constantly needing to think outside the box, you need to stop and think about whether or not you are in the right box.

Roger Knights
Reply to  MattS
January 16, 2018 11:08 am

RL Stevenson wrote a story or novel, “The Wrong Box.”

January 15, 2018 4:53 pm

“we can put the burden on future generations” = we want our money now

January 15, 2018 4:58 pm

Perhaps it was high-time that greenies and world governments alike realized that if they want to “rapidly decarbonize” then nuclear power absolutely, positively HAS to be the fundamental foundation on which to base the world economy. When are they going to wake up to reality??

Reply to  AZ1971
January 15, 2018 5:02 pm

Paris Agreement does not want to keep the world economy; it wants to destroy it.

Ian Macdonald
Reply to  AZ1971
January 16, 2018 9:14 am

Actually, shale gas has proved to be the best way to rapidly decarbonize. Nuclear stations, regardless of whether oldstyle PWR or advanced LFTR, take a lot of time to build. Shale gas can be used with existing CCGT equipment, also in existing gasfired space heating, thus a rapid switchover is possible. It can also be used with advanced fuel cell tech like the Bloom Box.

The reason the Greens are so bitterly opposed to it, is because it is a threat to the renewables industry that funds them.

January 15, 2018 5:00 pm

Climate Mitigation – is it an effort to stop the greening of the planet?

January 15, 2018 5:56 pm

Normally when trying to evaluate future costs or benefits, we use a discounting factor, 1/(1+r)^n, where
r is a discount rate, like the risk-free interest rate, and n is the number of the year in question. This takes into account some of the future uncertainty and the fact that even an uninflated dollar ten years from now is less valuable/useful to us than one dollar today. For 50 years from now and a 3% discount rate, 1/(1+0.03)^50 = 0.23, a significant reduction. Given the rapid changes in technology and the uncertainty in our models, r probably should be a lot larger and 1/(1+r) smaller.

January 15, 2018 6:26 pm

“For the next 50 years, however, soil C sequestration is a very cost-effective option, a “bridge to the future” that buys us time in which to develop those alternative energy options.”

Reply to  RiHo08
January 17, 2018 5:44 am

Putting carbon into the soil actually is the policy propagated by the reasonable fraction of the Left and the Greens – those who own rubber boots and a spade. It is also favored by permaculturalists, the Bio-crowd and by agronomy professors.
This is good and necessary for the soil, future enhanced plant-growth, better local climates, water retention, desert-greening, etc..
Talk of “Climate Change” will be a thing of the past in 10 years if this so obviously reasonable policy will be carried out.

Patrick MJD
January 15, 2018 6:54 pm

Just as long as it not a Farnsworth Parabox.

January 15, 2018 7:27 pm

nail the lid on the box and bury it. on the headstone put: “Climate Caliphate Lies Buried Here. Too Big to Flush.”

M.W. Plia.
January 15, 2018 9:28 pm

What’s wrong with the box? …..IMHO equilibrium is the box, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Such is the universe. Entropy never decreases, maximum entropy is equilibrium. Incoming solar shortwave IR is constantly balanced with outgoing terrestrial longwave IR. Do these people seriously believe a recently evolved super abundant population of hominids can alter this heavenly equilibrium? Are we that conceited?

They need to explain, in understandable terms, as if talking to a jury, how in the world a few parts per million of a trace gas, essential to life, can upset this estimated equilibrium, in terms of height and surface temperature, enough to have a climatic impact.

The truth is they have no clue. Clouds can’t be correctly described with calculus. No problem for them, as the truth isn’t the best lie. They have much better lies than the truth…rising seas, melting ice, extreme weather, drought, fires, floods…a humidification apocalypse…the end is near…etc. etc.

George Costanza was serious (and continues to be taken seriously) when he said…”Remember Jerry, it’s not a lie if you believe it.”
What a joke.

Thank you Anthony and WUWT, you folks remain that first flowering lily on a very stagnant pond.

Brian McCain
Reply to  M.W. Plia.
January 16, 2018 9:05 am

Do you remember the article that was on here that linked to article/paper that claimed that clouds have only existed since humans started ramping up CO2 in the 1800’s? Their basis was that Renaissance painters never included clouds in the backgrounds of their paintings. So before the Industrial Age, there was no rain, no snow and no dark gloomy days in winter. It was always bright and sunny and the perfect temperature. Truly CO2 is the miracle molecule. You really can’t make this sh*t up.

Reply to  Brian McCain
January 16, 2018 1:56 pm

Many thanks – I guess I totally missed that astonishing claim.

Does Latin have word for clouds?

Cumulus; stratus; Cirrus, even cirro-nimbus.

Perhaps {Perhaps!!??] the renaissance missed them , but Classic historians didn’t.

Auto, noting your well-deserved description of ‘sh*t’.

Mario Lento
January 15, 2018 9:56 pm

This is pathetic. The models are worse than useless… so basing anything on them, as modeling the future is useless.

January 16, 2018 5:26 am

Volcanic eruptions are increasing. They are a source of that deadly gas CO2. A big boomer like PInatubo or Montserrat or (name any) Chilean volcanoes can produce enough of that stuff to launch it skwyard, where it stays for a prolonged period. I think Popocatepetl is restless, too, these days. I’ve lost track of them all, but I can find a working list. Erta Ale in Ethiopia is the most dangerous, because it sits on a triple plate boundary and the crust has worn thin there, much thinner now than it was in 2005.

So here are my questions, which are definitely outside the box: volcanoes are natural producers of CO2, and eruptions are increasing in number.
How are these deeply concerned people going to stop those emissions?
Do they have a cork big enough for each one?
Are any of them even vaguely aware of the size of this planet and how quickly we could be reduced in numbers if all volcanoes erupted in concert?
Are they even vaguely aware that the Earth’s magnetic field is slowly but surely moving south and that this will have a profound effect on the entire planet itself, and there is NOTHING they can do about it?

Just askin’.

January 16, 2018 5:51 am

As usual, these futurists apparently are oblivious to the most potent means of reducing carbon – molten salt modular nuclear reactors – they are cheap, inherently safe, can be constructed and deployed quickly and produce the cheapest power of any technology. Are being developed by more than a dozen organizations, including two countries (China, India) and some are ready to buld prototypes right now.

January 16, 2018 10:11 am

Why? “pre-industrial levels” includes the Medieval, Roman, Minoan Warm Periods and the Holocene Optimum. Why harm We the People from enjoying the very prosperous times previously experienced during those warm periods, and escaping the catastrophic Little Ice Age?
Future scenarios must include preventing descent into the next glaciation – which will be far more harmful with catastrophic famines and deaths from cold, than enjoying the prosperity of those warm periods.

January 16, 2018 10:11 am

Why? “pre-industrial levels” includes the Medieval, Roman, Minoan Warm Periods and the Holocene Optimum. Why harm We the People from enjoying the very prosperous times previously experienced during those warm periods, and escaping the catastrophic Little Ice Age?
Future scenarios must include preventing descent into the next glaciation – which will be far more harmful with catastrophic famines and deaths from cold, than enjoying the prosperity of those warm periods.

January 16, 2018 11:57 am

Based on the paleoclimate record and the work that has been done with models, one can conclude that the climate change we have been experiencing is caused by the sun and the oceans over which mankind has no control. There is no real evidence that CO2 affects climate and plenty of sceintific rational to support the idea that the climate sensivity of CO2 is zero. So one could remove all the CO2 from our atmosphere which would end up killing off life as we know it but it would have have no effect on climate.

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