How Sensitive Is the Carbon Budget Approach to Potential Carbon Cycle Changes?

Friday, 19 December 2014
Damon Matthews, Concordia University, Montreal, QC, Canada
The recent development of global Earth-system models, which include dynamic representations of both physical climate and carbon cycle processes, has led to new insights about how the climate responds to human carbon dioxide emissions. Notably, several model analyses have now shown that global temperature responds linearly to cumulative CO2 emissions across a wide range of emissions scenarios. This implies that the timing of CO2 emissions does not affect the overall climate response, and allows a finite global carbon carbon budget to be defined for a given global temperature target. This linear climate response, however, emerges from the interaction of several non-linear processes and feedbacks involving how carbon sinks respond to changes in atmospheric CO2 and climate. In this presentation, I will give an overview of how carbon sinks and carbon cycle feedbacks contribute to the overall linearity of the climate response to cumulative emissions, and will assess how robust this relationship is to a range of possible changes in the carbon cycle, including (a) potential positive carbon cycle feedbacks that are not well represented in the current generation of Earth-system models and (b) negative emission scenarios resulting from possible technological strategies to remove CO2 from the atmosphere.