Scientists Michael Oppenheimer of Princeton University and Brian O'Neill of Brown University studied different strategies for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and compared plans that began reductions immediately and those that delayed action, but make a more intensive effort later.
"Delay inevitably means more warming and faster warming," said Oppenheimer. "And that could be detrimental not just to ecosystems, but to major elements of the climate system."
A dominant assumption in climate change research has been that there is an economic advantage to delaying action to curb greenhouse gas emissions, according to Oppenheimer.
"Then appropriate limits on carbon dioxide should be set and countries ought to move promptly to achieve those limits," said Oppenheimer. "Not acting promptly or not sticking to the target could prove highly disruptive, if not devastating."
The findings are to be published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.