Meeting Future Challenges

Each of the themes that emerged from the RAP on the carbon cycle tends to make the climate problem more difficult to solve. The role of land management in current sinks suggests that future sinks from CO2 fertilization will be smaller than past estimates. Inertia in the human system extends the timeline for developing and implementing solutions. Land ecosystems appear to be vulnerable to large releases of carbon, including releases from several mechanisms that have been absent from or incomplete in the models used for past assessments. Strategies for increased energy efficiency, carbon sequestration, and carbon-free energy are abundant, but no single technology is likely to solve the climate problem completely in the next few decades. A portfolio approach is the best option, but many of the elements of the portfolio are implicitly present in economic scenarios that fail to meet stabilization targets. Finally, each of the strategies for increased energy efficiency, carbon sequestration, or carbon-free energy involves a series of ancillary costs and benefits. In the broad context of societal issues, the ancillary effects may dominate the discussion of implementation.

How should an appreciation of the new dimensions of the climate problem change strategies for finding and implementing solutions? The most obvious conclusion is that the problem of climate change warrants more attention and higher priority. It also warrants a broader discussion of strategies, a discussion that should move beyond land, atmosphere, oceans, technology, and economics to include serious consideration of equity, consumption, and population.

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