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Concept: Climate change


What we eat greatly influences our personal health and the environment we all share. Recent analyses have highlighted the likely dual health and environmental benefits of reducing the fraction of animal-sourced foods in our diets. Here, we couple for the first time, to our knowledge, a region-specific global health model based on dietary and weight-related risk factors with emissions accounting and economic valuation modules to quantify the linked health and environmental consequences of dietary changes. We find that the impacts of dietary changes toward less meat and more plant-based diets vary greatly among regions. The largest absolute environmental and health benefits result from diet shifts in developing countries whereas Western high-income and middle-income countries gain most in per capita terms. Transitioning toward more plant-based diets that are in line with standard dietary guidelines could reduce global mortality by 6-10% and food-related greenhouse gas emissions by 29-70% compared with a reference scenario in 2050. We find that the monetized value of the improvements in health would be comparable with, or exceed, the value of the environmental benefits although the exact valuation method used considerably affects the estimated amounts. Overall, we estimate the economic benefits of improving diets to be 1-31 trillion US dollars, which is equivalent to 0.4-13% of global gross domestic product (GDP) in 2050. However, significant changes in the global food system would be necessary for regional diets to match the dietary patterns studied here.

Concepts: Health care, Carbon dioxide, Nutrition, Value added, Climate change, Gross domestic product, Greenhouse gas, Attribution of recent climate change


We assess the relationship between temperature and global sea-level (GSL) variability over the Common Era through a statistical metaanalysis of proxy relative sea-level reconstructions and tide-gauge data. GSL rose at 0.1 ± 0.1 mm/y (2σ) over 0-700 CE. A GSL fall of 0.2 ± 0.2 mm/y over 1000-1400 CE is associated with ∼0.2 °C global mean cooling. A significant GSL acceleration began in the 19th century and yielded a 20th century rise that is extremely likely (probability [Formula: see text]) faster than during any of the previous 27 centuries. A semiempirical model calibrated against the GSL reconstruction indicates that, in the absence of anthropogenic climate change, it is extremely likely ([Formula: see text]) that 20th century GSL would have risen by less than 51% of the observed [Formula: see text] cm. The new semiempirical model largely reconciles previous differences between semiempirical 21st century GSL projections and the process model-based projections summarized in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Fifth Assessment Report.

Concepts: Statistics, Climate change, 20th century, 21st century, Centuries, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Global warming, 19th century


We assess climate impacts of global warming using ongoing observations and paleoclimate data. We use Earth’s measured energy imbalance, paleoclimate data, and simple representations of the global carbon cycle and temperature to define emission reductions needed to stabilize climate and avoid potentially disastrous impacts on today’s young people, future generations, and nature. A cumulative industrial-era limit of ∼500 GtC fossil fuel emissions and 100 GtC storage in the biosphere and soil would keep climate close to the Holocene range to which humanity and other species are adapted. Cumulative emissions of ∼1000 GtC, sometimes associated with 2°C global warming, would spur “slow” feedbacks and eventual warming of 3-4°C with disastrous consequences. Rapid emissions reduction is required to restore Earth’s energy balance and avoid ocean heat uptake that would practically guarantee irreversible effects. Continuation of high fossil fuel emissions, given current knowledge of the consequences, would be an act of extraordinary witting intergenerational injustice. Responsible policymaking requires a rising price on carbon emissions that would preclude emissions from most remaining coal and unconventional fossil fuels and phase down emissions from conventional fossil fuels.

Concepts: Carbon dioxide, Carbon, Climate change, Methane, Fossil fuel, Coal, Greenhouse gas, Global warming


“Climate dice,” describing the chance of unusually warm or cool seasons, have become more and more “loaded” in the past 30 y, coincident with rapid global warming. The distribution of seasonal mean temperature anomalies has shifted toward higher temperatures and the range of anomalies has increased. An important change is the emergence of a category of summertime extremely hot outliers, more than three standard deviations (3σ) warmer than the climatology of the 1951-1980 base period. This hot extreme, which covered much less than 1% of Earth’s surface during the base period, now typically covers about 10% of the land area. It follows that we can state, with a high degree of confidence, that extreme anomalies such as those in Texas and Oklahoma in 2011 and Moscow in 2010 were a consequence of global warming because their likelihood in the absence of global warming was exceedingly small. We discuss practical implications of this substantial, growing, climate change.

Concepts: Earth, Median, Climate, Weather, Climate change, Normal distribution, Standard deviation, Global warming


Anthropogenic carbon emissions lock in long-term sea-level rise that greatly exceeds projections for this century, posing profound challenges for coastal development and cultural legacies. Analysis based on previously published relationships linking emissions to warming and warming to rise indicates that unabated carbon emissions up to the year 2100 would commit an eventual global sea-level rise of 4.3-9.9 m. Based on detailed topographic and population data, local high tide lines, and regional long-term sea-level commitment for different carbon emissions and ice sheet stability scenarios, we compute the current population living on endangered land at municipal, state, and national levels within the United States. For unabated climate change, we find that land that is home to more than 20 million people is implicated and is widely distributed among different states and coasts. The total area includes 1,185-1,825 municipalities where land that is home to more than half of the current population would be affected, among them at least 21 cities exceeding 100,000 residents. Under aggressive carbon cuts, more than half of these municipalities would avoid this commitment if the West Antarctic Ice Sheet remains stable. Similarly, more than half of the US population-weighted area under threat could be spared. We provide lists of implicated cities and state populations for different emissions scenarios and with and without a certain collapse of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. Although past anthropogenic emissions already have caused sea-level commitment that will force coastal cities to adapt, future emissions will determine which areas we can continue to occupy or may have to abandon.

Concepts: Sea level, Ice sheet, Oceanography, Climate change, Antarctica, Global warming, West Antarctic Ice Sheet, Antarctic ice sheet


Social and political tensions keep on fueling armed conflicts around the world. Although each conflict is the result of an individual context-specific mixture of interconnected factors, ethnicity appears to play a prominent and almost ubiquitous role in many of them. This overall state of affairs is likely to be exacerbated by anthropogenic climate change and in particular climate-related natural disasters. Ethnic divides might serve as predetermined conflict lines in case of rapidly emerging societal tensions arising from disruptive events like natural disasters. Here, we hypothesize that climate-related disaster occurrence enhances armed-conflict outbreak risk in ethnically fractionalized countries. Using event coincidence analysis, we test this hypothesis based on data on armed-conflict outbreaks and climate-related natural disasters for the period 1980-2010. Globally, we find a coincidence rate of 9% regarding armed-conflict outbreak and disaster occurrence such as heat waves or droughts. Our analysis also reveals that, during the period in question, about 23% of conflict outbreaks in ethnically highly fractionalized countries robustly coincide with climatic calamities. Although we do not report evidence that climate-related disasters act as direct triggers of armed conflicts, the disruptive nature of these events seems to play out in ethnically fractionalized societies in a particularly tragic way. This observation has important implications for future security policies as several of the world’s most conflict-prone regions, including North and Central Africa as well as Central Asia, are both exceptionally vulnerable to anthropogenic climate change and characterized by deep ethnic divides.

Concepts: Scientific method, Greek loanwords, Observation, Climate change, Ethnic group, Disaster, Hazard, Global warming


Relict woolly mammoth (Mammuthus primigenius) populations survived on several small Beringian islands for thousands of years after mainland populations went extinct. Here we present multiproxy paleoenvironmental records to investigate the timing, causes, and consequences of mammoth disappearance from St. Paul Island, Alaska. Five independent indicators of extinction show that mammoths survived on St. Paul until 5,600 ± 100 y ago. Vegetation composition remained stable during the extinction window, and there is no evidence of human presence on the island before 1787 CE, suggesting that these factors were not extinction drivers. Instead, the extinction coincided with declining freshwater resources and drier climates between 7,850 and 5,600 y ago, as inferred from sedimentary magnetic susceptibility, oxygen isotopes, and diatom and cladoceran assemblages in a sediment core from a freshwater lake on the island, and stable nitrogen isotopes from mammoth remains. Contrary to other extinction models for the St. Paul mammoth population, this evidence indicates that this mammoth population died out because of the synergistic effects of shrinking island area and freshwater scarcity caused by rising sea levels and regional climate change. Degradation of water quality by intensified mammoth activity around the lake likely exacerbated the situation. The St. Paul mammoth demise is now one of the best-dated prehistoric extinctions, highlighting freshwater limitation as an overlooked extinction driver and underscoring the vulnerability of small island populations to environmental change, even in the absence of human influence.

Concepts: Climate change, Extinction, Megafauna, Mammoth, Woolly mammoth, Wrangel Island, Dwarf elephant, Pleistocene megafauna


Persistent episodes of extreme weather in the Northern Hemisphere summer have been shown to be associated with the presence of high-amplitude quasi-stationary atmospheric Rossby waves within a particular wavelength range (zonal wavenumber 6-8). The underlying mechanistic relationship involves the phenomenon of quasi-resonant amplification (QRA) of synoptic-scale waves with that wavenumber range becoming trapped within an effective mid-latitude atmospheric waveguide. Recent work suggests an increase in recent decades in the occurrence of QRA-favorable conditions and associated extreme weather, possibly linked to amplified Arctic warming and thus a climate change influence. Here, we isolate a specific fingerprint in the zonal mean surface temperature profile that is associated with QRA-favorable conditions. State-of-the-art (“CMIP5”) historical climate model simulations subject to anthropogenic forcing display an increase in the projection of this fingerprint that is mirrored in multiple observational surface temperature datasets. Both the models and observations suggest this signal has only recently emerged from the background noise of natural variability.

Concepts: Climate, Weather, Climate change, Wave, Global warming, Waves, Northern Hemisphere, Extreme weather


Modeling results incorporating several distinct urban expansion futures for the United States in 2100 show that, in the absence of any adaptive urban design, megapolitan expansion, alone and separate from greenhouse gas-induced forcing, can be expected to raise near-surface temperatures 1-2 °C not just at the scale of individual cities but over large regional swaths of the country. This warming is a significant fraction of the 21st century greenhouse gas-induced climate change simulated by global climate models. Using a suite of regional climate simulations, we assessed the efficacy of commonly proposed urban adaptation strategies, such as green, cool roof, and hybrid approaches, to ameliorate the warming. Our results quantify how judicious choices in urban planning and design cannot only counteract the climatological impacts of the urban expansion itself but also, can, in fact, even offset a significant percentage of future greenhouse warming over large scales. Our results also reveal tradeoffs among different adaptation options for some regions, showing the need for geographically appropriate strategies rather than one size fits all solutions.

Concepts: Earth, Climate, Weather, Climate change, 21st century, Global warming, Climate model, Global climate model


Ongoing climate change can alter conditions for plant growth, in turn affecting ecological and social systems. While there have been considerable advances in understanding the physical aspects of climate change, comprehensive analyses integrating climate, biological, and social sciences are less common. Here we use climate projections under alternative mitigation scenarios to show how changes in environmental variables that limit plant growth could impact ecosystems and people. We show that although the global mean number of days above freezing will increase by up to 7% by 2100 under “business as usual” (representative concentration pathway [RCP] 8.5), suitable growing days will actually decrease globally by up to 11% when other climatic variables that limit plant growth are considered (i.e., temperature, water availability, and solar radiation). Areas in Russia, China, and Canada are projected to gain suitable plant growing days, but the rest of the world will experience losses. Notably, tropical areas could lose up to 200 suitable plant growing days per year. These changes will impact most of the world’s terrestrial ecosystems, potentially triggering climate feedbacks. Human populations will also be affected, with up to ~2,100 million of the poorest people in the world (~30% of the world’s population) highly vulnerable to changes in the supply of plant-related goods and services. These impacts will be spatially variable, indicating regions where adaptations will be necessary. Changes in suitable plant growing days are projected to be less severe under strong and moderate mitigation scenarios (i.e., RCP 2.6 and RCP 4.5), underscoring the importance of reducing emissions to avoid such disproportionate impacts on ecosystems and people.

Concepts: Population, Ecology, Earth, Sun, Climate, Ecosystem, Climate change, World population