Determinants of emissions pathways in the coupled climate–social system

Frances C. Moore, Katherine Lacasse, Katharine J. Mach, Yoon Ah Shin, Louis J. Gross & Brian Beckage

Department of Energy, Office of Science, Earth & Environmental Systems Modeling, MultiSector Dynamics Program Acknowledged Support: No, other Non-MSD source of support



The ambition and effectiveness of climate policies will be essential in determining greenhouse gas emissions and, as a consequence, the scale of climate change impacts1,2. However, the socio-politico-technical processes that will determine climate policy and emissions trajectories are treated as exogenous in almost all climate change modelling3,4. Here we identify relevant feedback processes documented across a range of disciplines and connect them in a stylized model of the climate–social system. An analysis of model behaviour reveals the potential for nonlinearities and tipping points that are particularly associated with connections across the individual, community, national and global scales represented. These connections can be decisive for determining policy and emissions outcomes. After partly constraining the model parameter space using observations, we simulate 100,000 possible future policy and emissions trajectories. These fall into 5 clusters with warming in 2100 ranging between 1.8 °C and 3.6 °C above the 1880–1910 average. Public perceptions of climate change, the future cost and effectiveness of mitigation technologies, and the responsiveness of political institutions emerge as important in explaining variation in emissions pathways and therefore the constraints on warming over the twenty-first century.

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