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Implications of possible interpretations of'greenhouse gas balance' in the Paris Agreement

Jan S. Fuglestvedt, Joeri Rogelj, Richard J. Millar, Myles Allen, Olivier Boucher, Michelle Cain, Piers M. Forster, Elmar Kriegler, Drew Shindell

The main goal of the Paris Agreement as stated in Article 2 is ‘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’. Article 4 points to this long-term goal and the need to achieve ‘balance between anthropogenic emissions by sources and removals by sinks of greenhouse gases'. This statement on ‘greenhouse gas balance’ is subject to interpretation, and clarifications are needed to make it operational for national and international climate policies. We study possible interpretations from a scientific perspective and analyse their climatic implications. We clarify how the implications for individual gases depend on the metrics used to relate them. We show that the way in which balance is interpreted, achieved and maintained influences temperature outcomes. Achieving and maintaining net-zero CO2-equivalent emissions conventionally calculated using GWP100 (100-year global warming potential) and including substantial positive contributions from short-lived climate-forcing agents such as methane would result in a sustained decline in global temperature. A modified approach to the use of GWP100 (that equates constant emissions of short-lived climate forcers with zero sustained emission of CO2) results in global temperatures remaining approximately constant once net-zero CO2-equivalent emissions are achieved and maintained. Our paper provides policymakers with an overview of issues and choices that are important to determine which approach is most appropriate in the context of the Paris Agreement.

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