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Research project

Understanding Pathways to and Impact of a 1.5 degrees rise in Global Temperature

Project overview

There is considerable uncertainty in the emissions pathway required to achieve the 1.5 degrees C warming target from the COP21 climate agreement. For example, the latest United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report indicated that 1.5 degrees C is compatible with cumulative carbon emissions of somewhere between 500 and 1500 Gigatonnes of carbon. To restrict warming to 1.5 degrees C, should we aim for net cumulative emissions of 500 GtC or of 1500 GtC? We do not yet have the required knowledge of the climate and carbon systems to decide. In fact, if a warming target of 1.5 degrees C is to be achieved, there has to be scope to adjust our future emissions plans over the 21st century and beyond in response to our evolving knowledge of the climate and carbon systems.

This project will define and evaluate Adjustable Pathways to 1.5 degrees C, in which the emissions pathway responds to climate observations over the 21st century to maximise the likelihood of delivering the final warming target. The Adjustable Pathways will be tested using millions of climate simulations from an innovative fast climate model whose ensemble members mimic the warming response range of the state-of-the-art CMIP5 models. We will assess how best to formulate the Adjustable Pathway to 1.5 degrees C warming, considering: (1) The initial rate of emissions reductions; (2) The time-interval between observational re-assessment of the emissions pathway; (3) The maximum rate of change of emissions reductions due to observational re-assessment; and (4) The existence of observational triggers that cause immediate re-assessment of the emissions pathway regardless of the time-interval.

We will then assess how the feasibility of Adjustable Pathways to 1.5 degrees C depends on the eventual value of the Transient Climate Response to Emission (TCRE) at 2100, and the future potential evolution of carbon capture and storage technology. We will assess the relative physical consequences of 1.5, 2.0 degrees C and 2.4 degrees C warming for sea level rise and the frequency of extreme sea level events. We will also assess impacts and costs of sea level rise 1.5 degrees C, 2.0 degrees C and 2.4 degrees C warming over the 21st century and beyond to year 2500, focusing on vulnerable, low-lying regions.

The unique aspect of this project that enables Adjustable Pathways to be evaluated is the ability to perform millions of climate simulations that reach the specific policy-driven warming targets. Conventional climate simulations use identical emissions pathways, but simulate a wide range of warming responses due to the uncertainty in the climate response. Here, we utilise a fast climate model that has recently developed by the research team, and mimics the range of climate responses shown by conventional models. This fast climate model can be configured to generate climate simulations that all lead to the same warming target, but cover a wide range of emissions pathways due to the uncertainty in the climate response.


Lead researcher

Dr Philip Goodwin

Associate Professor

Research interests

  • Philip has a number of research interests spanning climate and the carbon cycle:
  • (1) Earth’s coupled physical climate and biogeochemical system;
  • (2) The Anthropocene (including surface warming, sea level rise and ocean acidification);
Other researchers

Professor Ivan Haigh


Research interests

  • I have four main areas of research, as follows:
  • Mean Sea level: local, regional and global trends, detection of accelerations, understanding of inter-annual variability
  • Extreme sea levels and coastal Flooding: Changes in storm surges, extreme value analysis, compound events,

Professor Juerg Matter

Professor of Geoengineering&Carbon Manag

Collaborating research institutes, centres and groups

Research outputs

Sally Brown,
Alan Bloodworth,
Oliver Bragg,
Audrey Clauss,
Stuart Field,
Laura Gibbons,
Milda Pladaitė,
Malcolm Szuplewski,
James Watling,
Ali Shareef,
& Zammath Khaleel
, 2023 , Environmental Research: Climate , 2 (1)
Type: article
Martin Leduc,
Antti-Ilari Partanen,
H. Damon Matthews,
& Alex Rogers
, 2020 , Geoscientific Model Development , 13 (11) , 5389–5399
Type: article
, 2018 , Earth's Future , 6 (9) , 1336--1348
Type: article
Anna Katavouta,
Vassil M. Roussenov,
Eelco J. Rohling,
& Richard G. Williams
, 2018 , Nature Geoscience , 11 (2) , 102--107
Type: article