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Centre for Climate Science and Engineering: The science of net zero
March 17, 2022 @ 5:00 pm - 6:00 pm
Climate policy goals are increasingly expressed in terms of a target date for reaching net zero emissions. Net-zero targets now cover almost two-thirds of global emissions. This talk will present the climate science that underpins the requirement for net zero emissions to stabilize Earth’s climate. I will illustrate how the long residence time of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere and thermal inertia of the ocean conspire to keep global mean temperature elevated for many centuries even if human-made CO2emissions are completely eliminated. This finding, along with the near-linear relationship between global warming and cumulative CO2 emissions imply that warming will only stop if CO2 emissions reach zero, with the level of warming determined by the total amount of CO2 emitted. I will conclude by offering reflections about the advantages and risks of framing climate policy ambition in terms of net-zero targets.
Dr. Kirsten Zickfeld is a Distinguished Professor of Climate Science in the Geography Department at Simon Fraser University, which she joined in 2010. She holds a PhD in physics (2004) from the University of Potsdam in Germany. Dr. Zickfeld’s primary research interests are in the long-term effects of human activities on climate. She is internationally recognized for her research on the irreversibility of human-induced climate change and carbon budgets consistent with climate targets. Dr. Zickfeld served as Lead Author for the recently released Sixth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), and the IPCC Special Report on the Global Warming of 1.5 degrees. She also serves on the Scientific Steering Committee of the Global Carbon Project. Dr. Zickfeld was awarded the President’s Prize of the Canadian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society and SFU President’s Prize for Leadership in Sustainability.