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Climate and air-quality benefits of a realistic phase-out of fossil fuels.

Publication ,  Journal Article
Shindell, D; Smith, CJ
Published in: Nature
September 2019

The combustion of fossil fuels produces emissions of the long-lived greenhouse gas carbon dioxide and of short-lived pollutants, including sulfur dioxide, that contribute to the formation of atmospheric aerosols1. Atmospheric aerosols can cool the climate, masking some of the warming effect that results from the emission of greenhouse gases1. However, aerosol particulates are highly toxic when inhaled, leading to millions of premature deaths per year2,3. The phasing out of unabated fossil-fuel combustion will therefore provide health benefits, but will also reduce the extent to which the warming induced by greenhouse gases is masked by aerosols. Because aerosol levels respond much more rapidly to changes in emissions relative to carbon dioxide, large near-term increases in the magnitude and rate of climate warming are predicted in many idealized studies that typically assume an instantaneous removal of all anthropogenic or fossil-fuel-related emissions1,4-9. Here we show that more realistic modelling scenarios do not produce a substantial near-term increase in either the magnitude or the rate of warming, and in fact can lead to a decrease in warming rates within two decades of the start of the fossil-fuel phase-out. Accounting for the time required to transform power generation, industry and transportation leads to gradually increasing and largely offsetting climate impacts of carbon dioxide and sulfur dioxide, with the rate of warming further slowed by reductions in fossil-methane emissions. Our results indicate that even the most aggressive plausible transition to a clean-energy society provides benefits for climate change mitigation and air quality at essentially all decadal to centennial timescales.

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Published In

Nature

DOI

EISSN

1476-4687

ISSN

0028-0836

Publication Date

September 2019

Volume

573

Issue

7774

Start / End Page

408 / 411

Related Subject Headings

  • Models, Theoretical
  • General Science & Technology
  • Fossil Fuels
  • Environmental Policy
  • Climate Change
  • Atmosphere
  • Air Pollution
 

Citation

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Shindell, D., & Smith, C. J. (2019). Climate and air-quality benefits of a realistic phase-out of fossil fuels. Nature, 573(7774), 408–411. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-019-1554-z
Shindell, Drew, and Christopher J. Smith. “Climate and air-quality benefits of a realistic phase-out of fossil fuels.Nature 573, no. 7774 (September 2019): 408–11. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-019-1554-z.
Shindell D, Smith CJ. Climate and air-quality benefits of a realistic phase-out of fossil fuels. Nature. 2019 Sep;573(7774):408–11.
Shindell, Drew, and Christopher J. Smith. “Climate and air-quality benefits of a realistic phase-out of fossil fuels.Nature, vol. 573, no. 7774, Sept. 2019, pp. 408–11. Epmc, doi:10.1038/s41586-019-1554-z.
Shindell D, Smith CJ. Climate and air-quality benefits of a realistic phase-out of fossil fuels. Nature. 2019 Sep;573(7774):408–411.
Journal cover image

Published In

Nature

DOI

EISSN

1476-4687

ISSN

0028-0836

Publication Date

September 2019

Volume

573

Issue

7774

Start / End Page

408 / 411

Related Subject Headings

  • Models, Theoretical
  • General Science & Technology
  • Fossil Fuels
  • Environmental Policy
  • Climate Change
  • Atmosphere
  • Air Pollution