If climate action becomes urgent: the importance of response times for various climate strategies

06-04-2013 | Publication

Most deliberations on climate policy are based on a mitigation response that assumes a gradually increasing reduction over time. However, situations may occur where a more urgent response is needed. A key question for climate policy in general, but even more in the case a rapid response is needed, is: what are the characteristic response times of the response options, such as rapid mitigation or solar radiation management (SRM)? This paper explores this issue, which has not received a lot of attention yet, by looking into the role of both societal and physical response times.

For mitigation, technological and economic inertia clearly limit reduction rates with considerable uncertainty corresponding to political inertia and societies’ ability to organize rapid mitigation action at what costs. The paper looks into a rapid emission reductions of 4–6 % annually. Reduction rates at the top end of this range (up to 6%) could effectively reduce climate change, but only with a noticeable delay. Temperatures could be above those in the year of policy introduction for more than 70 years, with unknown consequences of overshoot. A strategy based on SRM is shown to have much shorter response times (up to decades), but introduces an important element of risk, such as ocean acidification and the risk of extreme temperature shifts in case action is halted. Above all, the paper highlights the role of response times in designing effective policy strategies implying that a better understanding of these crucial factors is required.