Temperature change as a function of cumulative emissions. Black solid line shows the CMIP5 historical mean, and black dashed is the RCP8.5 projection. Colored lines represent regression reconstructions as in Otto (2015) using observational temperatures from HadCRUT4 and GISTEMP, with cumulative emissions from the Global Carbon Project. Colored points show individual years from observations. Graphic: Sanderson, 2017 / RealClimate

By Ben Sanderson
4 October 2017

(RealClimate) – Millar, et al.’s recent paper in Nature Geoscience has provoked a lot of lively discussion, with the authors of the original paper releasing a statement to clarify that there paper did not suggest that “action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is no longer urgent“, rather that 1.5ºC (above the pre-industrial) is not “geophysically impossible”.

The range of post-2014 allowable emissions for a 66% chance of not passing 1.5ºC in Millar et al of 200-240GtC implies that the planet would exceed the threshold after 2030 at current emissions levels, compared with the AR5 analysis which would imply most likely exceedance before 2020. Assuming the Millar numbers are correct changes 1.5ºC from fantasy to merely very difficult.

But is this statement overconfident? Last week’s post on Realclimate raised a couple of issues which imply that both the choice of observational dataset and the chosen pre-industrial baseline period can influence the conclusion of how much warming the Earth has experienced to date. Here, I consider three aspects of the analysis – and assess how they influence the conclusions of the study. [more]

1.5ºC: Geophysically impossible or not?

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