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Earth System Dynamics An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union

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Earth Syst. Dynam., 7, 327-351, 2016
https://doi.org/10.5194/esd-7-327-2016
© Author(s) 2016. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.
Research article
21 Apr 2016
Differential climate impacts for policy-relevant limits to global warming: the case of 1.5 °C and 2 °C
Carl-Friedrich Schleussner1,2, Tabea K. Lissner1,2, Erich M. Fischer3, Jan Wohland2, Mahé Perrette2, Antonius Golly4,6, Joeri Rogelj3,5, Katelin Childers2, Jacob Schewe2, Katja Frieler2, Matthias Mengel1,2, William Hare1,2, and Michiel Schaeffer1,7 1Climate Analytics, Friedrichstr. 231 – Haus B, 10969 Berlin, Germany
2Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, Potsdam, Germany
3Institute for Atmospheric and Climate Science, ETH Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland
4GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences, Potsdam, Germany
5Energy Program, International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, Laxenburg, Austria
6University of Potsdam, Institute of Earth and Environmental Science, Potsdam, Germany
7Wageningen University and Research Centre, Environmental Systems Analysis Group, Wageningen, the Netherlands
Abstract. Robust appraisals of climate impacts at different levels of global-mean temperature increase are vital to guide assessments of dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system. The 2015 Paris Agreement includes a two-headed temperature goal: "holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C". Despite the prominence of these two temperature limits, a comprehensive overview of the differences in climate impacts at these levels is still missing. Here we provide an assessment of key impacts of climate change at warming levels of 1.5 °C and 2 °C, including extreme weather events, water availability, agricultural yields, sea-level rise and risk of coral reef loss. Our results reveal substantial differences in impacts between a 1.5 °C and 2 °C warming that are highly relevant for the assessment of dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system. For heat-related extremes, the additional 0.5 °C increase in global-mean temperature marks the difference between events at the upper limit of present-day natural variability and a new climate regime, particularly in tropical regions. Similarly, this warming difference is likely to be decisive for the future of tropical coral reefs. In a scenario with an end-of-century warming of 2 °C, virtually all tropical coral reefs are projected to be at risk of severe degradation due to temperature-induced bleaching from 2050 onwards. This fraction is reduced to about 90 % in 2050 and projected to decline to 70 % by 2100 for a 1.5 °C scenario. Analyses of precipitation-related impacts reveal distinct regional differences and hot-spots of change emerge. Regional reduction in median water availability for the Mediterranean is found to nearly double from 9 % to 17 % between 1.5 °C and 2 °C, and the projected lengthening of regional dry spells increases from 7 to 11 %. Projections for agricultural yields differ between crop types as well as world regions. While some (in particular high-latitude) regions may benefit, tropical regions like West Africa, South-East Asia, as well as Central and northern South America are projected to face substantial local yield reductions, particularly for wheat and maize. Best estimate sea-level rise projections based on two illustrative scenarios indicate a 50 cm rise by 2100 relative to year 2000-levels for a 2 °C scenario, and about 10 cm lower levels for a 1.5 °C scenario. In a 1.5 °C scenario, the rate of sea-level rise in 2100 would be reduced by about 30 % compared to a 2 °C scenario. Our findings highlight the importance of regional differentiation to assess both future climate risks and different vulnerabilities to incremental increases in global-mean temperature. The article provides a consistent and comprehensive assessment of existing projections and a good basis for future work on refining our understanding of the difference between impacts at 1.5 °C and 2 °C warming.
Please read the corrigendum first before accessing the article.


Citation: Schleussner, C.-F., Lissner, T. K., Fischer, E. M., Wohland, J., Perrette, M., Golly, A., Rogelj, J., Childers, K., Schewe, J., Frieler, K., Mengel, M., Hare, W., and Schaeffer, M.: Differential climate impacts for policy-relevant limits to global warming: the case of 1.5 °C and 2 °C, Earth Syst. Dynam., 7, 327-351, https://doi.org/10.5194/esd-7-327-2016, 2016.
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Short summary
We present for the first time a comprehensive assessment of key climate impacts for the policy relevant warming levels of 1.5 °C and 2 °C above pre-industrial levels. We report substantial impact differences in intensity and frequency of extreme weather events, regional water availability and agricultural yields, sea-level rise and risk of coral reef loss. The increase in climate impacts is particularly pronounced in tropical and sub-tropical regions.
We present for the first time a comprehensive assessment of key climate impacts for the policy...
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