IPCC Fourth Assessment Report: Climate Change 2007
Climate Change 2007: Working Group III: Mitigation of Climate Change

3.3.4 Emission pathways

Emission pathway studies often focus on specific questions with respect to the consequences of timing (in terms of environmental impacts) or overall reduction rates needed for specific long-term targets, (e.g. the emission pathways developed by Wigley et al., 1996). A specific issue raised in the literature on emission pathways since the TAR has concerned a temporary overshoot of the target (concentration, forcing, or temperature). Meinshausen (2006) used a simple carbon-cycle model to illustrate that for low-concentration targets (i.e. below 3 W/m2/ 450 ppmv CO2-eq) overshoot is inevitable, given the feasible maximum rate of reduction. Wigley (2003) argued that overshoot profiles may give important economic benefits. In response, O’Neill and Oppenheimer (2004) showed that the associated incremental warming of large overshoots may significantly increase the risks of exceeding critical climate thresholds to which ecosystems are known to be able to adapt. Other emission pathways that lead to less extreme concentration overshoots may provide a sensible compromise between these two results. For instance, the ‘peaking strategies’ chosen by Den Elzen et al. (2006) show that it is possible to increase the likelihood of meeting the long-term temperature target or to reach targets with a similar likelihood at lower costs. Similar arguments for analyzing overshoot strategies are made by Harvey (2004), and Kheshgi et al. (2005).