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

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doi:10.5194/esd-2016-42
© Author(s) 2016. This work is distributed
under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.
Research article
04 Oct 2016
Review status
This discussion paper is under review for the journal Earth System Dynamics (ESD).
Young People's Burden: Requirement of Negative CO2 Emissions
James Hansen1, Makiko Sato1, Pushker Kharecha1, Karina von Schuckmann2, David J Beerling3, Junji Cao4, Shaun Marcott5, Valerie Masson-Delmotte6, Michael J Prather7, Eelco J Rohling8,9, Jeremy Shakun10, and Pete Smith11 1Climate Science, Awareness and Solutions, Columbia University Earth Institute, New York, NY 10115
2Mercator Ocean, 10 Rue Hermes, 31520 Ramonville St Agne, France
3Leverhulme Centre for Climate Change Mitigation, University of Sheffield, Sheffield S10 2TN, UK
4Key Lab of Aerosol Chemistry and Physics, SKLLQG, Institute of Earth Environment, Xi'an 710061, China
5Department of Geoscience, 1215 W. Dayton St., Weeks Hall, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, WI 53706
6Institut Pierre Simon Laplace, Laboratoire des Sciences du Climat et de l’Environnement (CEA-CNRS-UVSQ) Université Paris Saclay, Gif-sur-Yvette, France
7Earth System Science Department, University of California at Irvine, CA
8Research School of Earth Sciences, The Australian National University, Canberra, 2601, Australia
9Ocean and Earth Science, University of Southampton, National Oceanography Centre, Southampton, SO14 3ZH, UK
10Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, Boston College, Chestnut Hill, MA 02467
11Institute of Biological and Environmental Sciences, University of Aberdeen, 23 St Machar Drive, AB24 3UU, UK
Abstract. The rapid rise of global temperature that began about 1975 continues at a mean rate of about 0.18 °C/decade, with the current annual temperature exceeding +1.25 °C relative to 1880–1920. Global temperature has just reached a level similar to the mean level in the prior interglacial (Eemian) period, when sea level was several meters higher than today, and, if it long remains at this level, slow amplifying feedbacks will lead to greater climate change and consequences. The growth rate of climate forcing due to human-caused greenhouse gases (GHGs) increased over 20 % in the past decade mainly due to resurging growth of atmospheric CH4, thus making it increasingly difficult to achieve targets such as limiting global warming to 1.5 °C or reducing atmospheric CO2 below 350 ppm. Such targets now require "negative emissions", i.e., extraction of CO2 from the atmosphere. If rapid phasedown of fossil fuel emissions begins soon, most of the necessary CO2 extraction can take place via improved agricultural and forestry practices, including reforestation and steps to improve soil fertility and increase its carbon content. In this case, the magnitude and duration of global temperature excursion above the natural range of the current interglacial (Holocene) could be limited and irreversible climate impacts could be minimized. In contrast, continued high fossil fuel emissions by the current generation would place a burden on young people to undertake massive technological CO2 extraction, if they are to limit climate change. Proposed methods of extraction such as bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) or air capture of CO2 imply minimal estimated costs of 104–570 trillion dollars this century, with large risks and uncertain feasibility. Continued high fossil fuel emissions unarguably sentences young people to either a massive, possibly implausible cleanup or growing deleterious climate impacts or both, scenarios that should provide both incentive and obligation for governments to alter energy policies without further delay.

Citation: Hansen, J., Sato, M., Kharecha, P., von Schuckmann, K., Beerling, D. J., Cao, J., Marcott, S., Masson-Delmotte, V., Prather, M. J., Rohling, E. J., Shakun, J., and Smith, P.: Young People's Burden: Requirement of Negative CO2 Emissions, Earth Syst. Dynam. Discuss., doi:10.5194/esd-2016-42, in review, 2016.
James Hansen et al.
James Hansen et al.
James Hansen et al.

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Short summary
Global temperature now exceeds +1.25 °C relative to 1880–1920, similar to warmth of the Eemian period. Keeping warming less than 1.5 °C or CO2 below 350 ppm now requires extraction of CO2 from the air. If rapid phaseout of fossil fuel emissions begins soon, most extraction can be via improved agricultural and forestry practices. In contrast, continued high emissions places a burden on young people of massive technological CO2 extraction with large risks, high costs and uncertain feasibility.
Global temperature now exceeds +1.25 °C relative to 1880–1920, similar to warmth of the Eemian...
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