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New climate study shows that we need to be patient when it comes to emissions mitigation

One new climate study shows that we will need to be patient to see significant results from reducing emissions. This color image of the Earth was taken by the European Space Agency's Galileo spacecraft on Dec. 11, 1990, as it departed on its three year flight to Jupiter.
One new climate study shows that we will need to be patient to see significant results from reducing emissions. This color image of the Earth was taken by the European Space Agency's Galileo spacecraft on Dec. 11, 1990, as it departed on its three year flight to Jupiter.
(Image: © NASA/JPL)

To make any progress fighting climate change, we have to commit to long-term mitigation, a new study finds. 

It could take decades of significantly reducing human activities that create emissions (like driving, air travel and factory production) before there are any statistically measurable changes in global surface temperatures here on Earth, according to a study led by Bjørn Samset, a climate scientist at CICERO the Center for International Climate and Environmental Research in Oslo, Norway. (Samset is also a member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.)

These findings suggest that even with significant mitigation efforts, it will take time to observe changes. "Even if society sharply reduce greenhouse gas emissions (reductions of 5 percent per year or more of CO2, methane or other pollutants), it will take time before we can clearly detect the effect of these actions in terms of a slowing down of global warming," study author Marianna Tronstad Lund, a senior researcher at the Center for International Climate Research (CICERO), told Space.com in an email. 

The team also found that this is true for all types of greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change, not just carbon dioxide. In other words, Tronstad Lund explained, "there is no quick and easy fix by targeting other emissions than CO2."

To come to these conclusions, the team modeled and studied the effects of abrupt reductions in different greenhouse gas emissions, including carbon dioxide and methane. They modeled different levels of emission reduction and "ideal" emission reductions. 

The results of this study might be disheartening, and "it can be discouraging to hear that … even if we're extremely efficient at reducing emissions we will have to wait years or decades to reap the benefits," Tronstad Lund said. However, this is not the message that the team wanted to send with this work, they explained. 

"Our results do not change the fundamental challenge or make it more or less difficult, but it emphasizes that we do need to be patient and not get discouraged when we don't see immediate changes in the rate of temperature increase," Tronstad Lund said. 

"The study is very much about managing our expectations and avoiding that we end up in a situation where we feel that we have nothing to show for all the efforts we make to reduce emissions. It is important to stress that emissions reductions are effective from day one. If anything, the slow response of the climate systems adds to the urgency of cutting emissions now," they added.

Tronstad Lund added that there are small steps that people at home can take in the fight against climate change. "Some of the most effective measures are to take fewer flights and drive less, reduce food waste and eat less red meat, and in general buy less stuff ... Although a lot of the action has to take place at the political level, we need all hands on deck," they said.

This work was published July 7 in the journal Nature Communications. 

Email Chelsea Gohd at cgohd@space.com or follow her on Twitter @chelsea_gohd. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.

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