Paleoclimate evidence and climate models indicate that certain elements of the climate system may exhibit thresholds, with small changes in greenhouse gas emissions resulting in non-linear and potentially irreversible regime shifts with serious consequences for socio-economic systems. Such thresholds or tipping points in the climate system are likely to depend on both the magnitude and rate of change of surface warming. The collapse of the Atlantic thermohaline circulation (THC) is one example of such a threshold. To evaluate mitigation policies that curb greenhouse gas emissions to levels that prevent such a climate threshold being reached, we use the MERGE model of Manne, Mendelsohn and Richels. Depending on assumptions on climate sensitivity and technological progress, our analysis shows that preserving the THC may require a fast and strong greenhouse gas emission reduction from today's level, with transition to nuclear and/or renewable energy, possibly combined with the use of carbon capture and sequestration systems.
Published October 2009 , 29 pages
This cahier was revised in October 2010