Closed-loop and congestion control of the global carbon-climate system

Carlos A. Sierra, Holger Metzler, Markus Müller and Eurika Kaiser

Climatic Change, 165, 15 , doi:10.1007/s10584-021-03040-0, 2021


The global carbon-climate system is a complex dynamical system with multiple feedbacks among components, and to steer this system away from dangerous climate change, it may not be enough to prescribe action according to long-term scenarios of fossil fuel emissions. We introduce here concepts from control theory, a branch of applied mathematics that is effective at steering complex dynamical systems to desired states, and distinguish between open- and closed-loop control. We attempt (1) to show that current scientific work on carbon-climate feedbacks and climate policy more closely resembles the conceptual model of open- than closed-loop control, (2) to introduce a mathematical generalization of the carbon-climate system as a compartmental dynamical system that can facilitate the formal treatment of the closed-loop control problem, and (3) to formulate carbon-climate control as a congestion control problem, discussing important concepts such as observability and controllability. We also show that most previous discussions on climate change mitigation and policy development have relied on an implicit assumption of open-loop control that does not consider frequent corrections due to deviations of goals from observations. Using a reduced complexity model, we illustrate that the problem of managing the global carbon cycle can be abstracted as a network congestion problem, accounting for nonlinear behavior and feedback from a global carbon monitoring system. As opposed to scenarios, the goal of closed-loop control is to develop rules for continuously steering the global carbon-climate system away from dangerous climate change.

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For additional information, contact: Carlos A. Sierra

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