If we stabilized greenhouse gas emissions at today's rates, would global warming stop?

July 2, 2007

No. Carbon dioxide levels are rising because we currently emit more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than natural processes like photosynthesis and absorption into the oceans can remove. Therefore, stabilizing emissions at today’s rates will not stop global warming: our carbon dioxide “deposits” would still exceed natural “withdrawals.” Atmospheric carbon dioxide levels would continue to increase, and temperatures would continue to rise. To stop global warming, we will have to significantly reduce not just stabilize, emissions in coming decades.

CO2 Concentration Scenarios

Since the start of the industrial revolution, humans have been burning fossil fuels and emitting carbon dioxide faster than natural processes can take it back up. As a result, concentration of carbon dioxide has been rising (black line segment.) The graph above shows how different scenarios would affect carbon dioxide concentrations. To reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere (purple), emissions have to fall below the amount that plants and the ocean absorb. Smaller reductions (blue line) or capping emissions at current rates (green line) will only slow the rate of growth. (Graph by Robert Simmon, NASA Earth Observatory.)

  1. References

  2. U.S. Department of Energy, Energy Information Administration. (2004, April 2). Greenhouse Gases, Climate Change, and Energy. Accessed June 29, 2007.
  3. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. (2007). Chapter 10: Global Climate Projections In: Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [Solomon, S., D. Qin, M. Manning, Z. Chen, M. Marquis, K.B. Averyt, M.Tignor, and H.L. Miller (eds.)]. Cambridge, United Kingdom, and New York, New York: Cambridge University Press.

Browse related questions by category

Climate Q&A

Share