Policy ForumCLIMATE POLICY

Unmask temporal trade-offs in climate policy debates

See allHide authors and affiliations

Science  05 May 2017:
Vol. 356, Issue 6337, pp. 492-493
DOI: 10.1126/science.aaj2350

You are currently viewing the summary.

View Full Text

Log in to view the full text

Log in through your institution

Log in through your institution

Summary

Global warming potentials (GWPs) have become an essential element of climate policy and are built into legal structures that regulate greenhouse gas emissions. This is in spite of a well-known shortcoming: GWP hides trade-offs between short- and long-term policy objectives inside a single time scale of 100 or 20 years (1). The most common form, GWP100, focuses on the climate impact of a pulse emission over 100 years, diluting near-term effects and misleadingly implying that short-lived climate pollutants exert forcings in the long-term, long after they are removed from the atmosphere (2). Meanwhile, GWP20 ignores climate effects after 20 years. We propose that these time scales be ubiquitously reported as an inseparable pair, much like systolic-diastolic blood pressure and city-highway vehicle fuel economy, to make the climate effect of using one or the other time scale explicit. Policy-makers often treat a GWP as a value-neutral measure, but the time-scale choice is central to achieving specific objectives (24).