The relationship between net GHG emissions and radiative forcing with an application to Article 4.1 of the Paris Agreement

Abstract

This paper provides an assessment of Article 4.1 of the Paris Agreement on climate; the main goal of which is to provide guidance on how “to achieve the long-term temperature goal set out in Article 2”. Paraphrasing, Article 4.1 says that, to achieve this end, we should decrease greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions so that net anthropogenic GHG emissions fall to zero in the second half of this century. To aggregate net GHG emissions, 100-year global warming potentials (GWP-100) are commonly used to convert non-CO2 emissions to equivalent CO2 emissions. The GWP-scaling method is tested using methane as an example. The temperature projections using GWP-100 scaling are shown to be seriously in error. This throws doubt on the use of GWP-100 scaling to estimate net GHG emissions. An alternative method to determine the net-zero point for GHG emissions based on radiative forcing is derived, where the net-zero point is identified with the maximum of GHG forcing. This shows that, to meet the Article 2 warming goal, the net-zero point for GHG emissions needs to be reached as early as 2036, much sooner than in the Article 4.1 window. Other scientific problems in Article 4.1 that further undermine its purpose to guide efforts to achieve the Article 2 temperature targets are discussed.