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Computer Models Of Civilization Offer Routes To Ending Global Warming

Computer Models Of Civilization Offer Routes To Ending Global Warming

As the world's top climate scientists released a report full of warnings this week, they kept insisting that the world still has a chance to avoid the worst effects of climate change.

"It is still possible to forestall most of the dire impacts, but it really requires unprecedented, transformational change," said Ko Barrett, vice chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. "The idea that there still is a pathway forward, I think, is a point that should give us some hope."

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That hopeful pathway, in which dangerous changes to the world's climate eventually stop, is the product of giant computer simulations of the world economy. They're called integrated assessment models. There are half a dozen major versions of them: four developed in Europe, one in Japan, and one in the U.S., at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.

"What we mostly are doing, is trying to explore what is needed to meet the Paris goals." says Detlef van Vuuren, at the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, which developed one of the models.

How to cut greenhouse gas emissions to zero in 40 years
World leaders agreed in Paris to limit global warming to less than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit). The planet has already warmed about 1 degree Celsius, compared to pre-industrial levels.

Meeting that goal will mean cutting net greenhouse gas emissions to zero within about 40 years. It would require profound changes; so profound, it's not immediately clear that it's even possible.

That's why van Vuuren and his colleagues turned to their computer models for help. "How is it possible to go to zero emissions?" he says. "That's for transport, that's for housing, that's for electricity."

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