Uncertainty in projected climate change arising from uncertain fossil-fuel emission factors

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Citation:
Environmental Research Letters, 2018, 13 (4)
Issue Date:
2018-04-01
Full metadata record
© 2018 The Author(s). Published by IOP Publishing Ltd. Emission inventories are widely used by the climate community, but their uncertainties are rarely accounted for. In this study, we evaluate the uncertainty in projected climate change induced by uncertainties in fossil-fuel emissions, accounting for non-CO2 species co-emitted with the combustion of fossil-fuels and their use in industrial processes. Using consistent historical reconstructions and three contrasted future projections of fossil-fuel extraction from Mohr et al we calculate CO2 emissions and their uncertainties stemming from estimates of fuel carbon content, net calorific value and oxidation fraction. Our historical reconstructions of fossil-fuel CO2 emissions are consistent with other inventories in terms of average and range. The uncertainties sum up to a ±15% relative uncertainty in cumulative CO2 emissions by 2300. Uncertainties in the emissions of non-CO2 species associated with the use of fossil fuels are estimated using co-emission ratios varying with time. Using these inputs, we use the compact Earth system model OSCAR v2.2 and a Monte Carlo setup, in order to attribute the uncertainty in projected global surface temperature change (T) to three sources of uncertainty, namely on the Earth system's response, on fossil-fuel CO2 emission and on non-CO2 co-emissions. Under the three future fuel extraction scenarios, we simulate the median T to be 1.9, 2.7 or 4.0 °C in 2300, with an associated 90% confidence interval of about 65%, 52% and 42%. We show that virtually all of the total uncertainty is attributable to the uncertainty in the future Earth system's response to the anthropogenic perturbation. We conclude that the uncertainty in emission estimates can be neglected for global temperature projections in the face of the large uncertainty in the Earth system response to the forcing of emissions. We show that this result does not hold for all variables of the climate system, such as the atmospheric partial pressure of CO2 and the radiative forcing of tropospheric ozone, that have an emissions-induced uncertainty representing more than 40% of the uncertainty in the Earth system's response.
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