An analysis of major sources of uncertainty in limiting the rise of global temperatures has found that politics, rather than science, society or technology, plays the largest role.
The study, published in Nature, compared the relative importance of political uncertainty regarding when a coordinated global climate policy might be achieved; scientific uncertainty over how much the Earth will warm in response to emissions; social uncertainty about future energy demand; and technological uncertainty regarding the availability of emissions-reduction technologies.
Taking into account emissions and costs in more than 500 different scenarios, the researchers found that the costs of political delays in limiting global warming far outright any possible benefits of waiting for more research into the mechanisms of climate change.
The second most important factor was scientific uncertainties over how the climate will respond to mitigation efforts, followed by social and technological factors.
Joeri Rogelj, a climate-policy analyst at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich and author of the paper, said: "The big finding is that the choice of when to do something influences the outcome much more than the [other] uncertainties."
Rogelj warns that while his analysis is the first to integrate the four major sources of climate uncertainty, it's also likely to be conservative as it doesn't take into account certain positive feedback processes inherent in the climate system.
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