New Research Suggests 1.5C Climate Target Will Be Out Of Reach Without Greener Plans

New Research Suggests 1.5c Climate Target Will Be Out Of Reach Without Greener Plans
Global fossil fuel emissions dropped by about seven per cent in 2020 compared with 2019. But a rebound is likely to occur when lockdowns ease up unless COVID-19 recovery packages focus on ‘green recovery.’ (AP Photo/Michael Probst)

The amount of carbon dioxide that we can still emit while limiting global warming to a given target is called the “remaining carbon budget,” and it has become a powerful tool to inform climate policy goals and track progress towards net-zero emissions targets.

This carbon budget is like a fixed financial budget: there is a cap on total allowable expenses over time, and excess spending in the near term requires deceased spending in the future. Similarly, the remaining carbon budget is a fixed total quantity of future emissions that is small enough to limit global temperature increases before they exceed our climate targets.

Scientists’ estimates of the remaining carbon budget vary widely. Studies often use different approaches or even definitions of what the carbon budget represents. This can involve different treatment of how greenhouse gases other than CO2 contribute to climate change, or the incomplete representation of some processes, such as the role of aerosols in climate change.

The large range of estimates can be used either to write off ambitious climate targets or argue that the transition to a low-carbon economy can proceed gradually over several decades. Neither extreme reflects the actual uncertainty especially well.

We developed a a new way to generate a better estimate of the remaining carbon budget for the 1.5C limit of the Paris Agreement that integrates all major sources of uncertainty. Our results suggest that even if the growing list of countries committing to 2050 net-zero emissions targets reached their goals, we would still deplete the 1.5C remaining carbon budget more than a decade too soon.

This is a stark reminder of how quickly we are running out of time to achieve the most ambitious temperature goal of the Paris Agreement.

How much budget is left?

Our best estimate of the 1.5C remaining carbon budget is 440 billion tonnes of CO2 from 2020 onward. If human activities around the globe continue to produce CO2 at current rates, we will deplete the remaining carbon budget in a little more than 10 years.

If we slow our rate of emissions, the remaining budget will last longer. To avoid exceeding the remaining carbon budget, we need to stop emitting CO2 altogether. A budget of 440 billion tonnes from 2020 means that global CO2 emissions need to decrease to net-zero by about 2040.

However, even this would give us only a 50 per cent chance of not exceeding 1.5C. For a 67 per cent chance, total CO2 emissions must not exceed 230 billion tonnes. This is about five years of current emissions, or reaching net-zero emissions by 2030.

New Research Suggests 1.5c Climate Target Will Be Out Of Reach Without Greener Plans
Distribution of the remaining carbon budget for 1.5C (left panel) showing the median estimate of 440 Gt CO2 from 2020 onwards, with a 33rd-67th percentile range of 230 to 670 Gt CO2. This range includes all major geophysical uncertainties, but is also sensitive to other uncertainties that relate to human decisions and mitigation actions. In particular, human decisions regarding future emissions of other greenhouse gases and aerosols have the potential to shift the carbon budget distribution by 170 Gt CO2 in either direction (right panel).
Matthews, Tokarska et al (2020) Communications Earth and Environment

Global decarbonization within 10 to 20 years is obviously a daunting challenge. But is it an impossible one?

The past year saw global CO2 emissions drop by seven per cent relative to 2019. Continued decrease at this rate would cause global emissions to reach net-zero by about 2035, giving us better than even odds of limiting global warming to 1.5C.

This will not occur without a global effort to change the trajectory of future emissions. The 2020 emissions drop was a side-effect of efforts to control COVID-19. If economic recovery efforts were targeted to try to bring emissions down further this could keep the 1.5C target within reach.

Changing the course of future emissions

At the peak of global lockdowns in April 2020, daily CO2 emissions decreased by almost 20 per cent relative to the same period in 2019. These insights can inform how COVID-19 recovery investments could be used to drive emissions further downward.

The largest relative decreases in emissions came from reductions in road transport, such as commuting by car, and air travel. Although we are all suffering from the loss of in-person interactions, we have also learned a lot about how to convene meetings, presentations and collaborations online. While individual mobility will rebound as lockdowns ease, our crash course in remote working and learning means that we may not need to return to pre-COVID-19 travel levels.

New Research Suggests 1.5c Climate Target Will Be Out Of Reach Without Greener Plans
Global carbon dioxide emissions dropped dramatically during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic when many borders closed and people stayed at home, largely due to decreased surface transportation and air travel.
(Le Quéré et al. Nature Climate Change, 2020/Global Carbon Project), CC BY

Emissions from industry and power generation did not decrease as much, in relative terms. This points to the need for systemic changes in technological infrastructure to unlock the potential for lower-carbon economic activity.

Similar technological advances are also needed to support low-carbon travel in circumstances where online platforms are not up to the task. The combination of sustained individual behavioural change, with a rapid expansion of low-carbon infrastructure, has the potential to have a substantial effect on the trajectory of future CO2 emissions.

Staying within the remaining carbon budget

An increasing number of countries, cities and companies are committing to net-zero emissions targets, where CO2 emissions are decreased to zero or to a level that is matched by the intentional removal of CO2 from the atmosphere. These targets are essential to any effort to stay within the remaining carbon budget.

Countries that have adopted or promised net-zero emissions targets include the European Union, United Kingdom, China, Canada and the United States under the new Biden administration. Currently, most of these targets are set for 2050 (or 2060 in the case of China).

According to our estimate of the remaining carbon budget, these commitments are insufficient to limit warming to 1.5C. They may, however, limit warming to the higher temperature goal of the Paris Agreement: well below 2C.

The climate effects of other greenhouse gases, as well as of aerosols emitted from fossil fuel use, remain one of the largest sources of uncertainty in estimates of the remaining carbon budget. Our effectiveness in mitigating these other emissions could expand or contract the size of the remaining carbon budget.

This year will be key in our efforts to decrease emissions. COVID-19 has opened a window of opportunity to meet ambitious climate targets that might otherwise have been out of reach.

Governments around the world are spending unprecedented amounts to support and reinvigorate national economies. We must actively pursue this opportunity for a green recovery and avoid investing in infrastructure and industries that will lock in future CO2 emissions. Yet the COVID-19 stimulus packages announced so far are “missing the opportunity,” according to the UN Environment Program’s adaptation report released last week.

There are no emergency lockdown measures that will slow the rate of climate warming. Instead we need targeted, substantial and sustained effort and investments to continue to decrease and eventually eliminate global CO2 emissions. This window is open now, and we must not miss the opportunity.

The ConversationAbout The Author

H. Damon Matthews, Professor and Concordia University Research Chair in Climate Science and Sustainability, Concordia University and Kasia Tokarska, Postdoctoral research fellow, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Related Books

The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming Kindle Edition

by David Wallace-Wells
0525576703It is worse, much worse, than you think. If your anxiety about global warming is dominated by fears of sea-level rise, you are barely scratching the surface of what terrors are possible. In California, wildfires now rage year-round, destroying thousands of homes. Across the US, “500-year” storms pummel communities month after month, and floods displace tens of millions annually. This is only a preview of the changes to come. And they are coming fast. Without a revolution in how billions of humans conduct their lives, parts of the Earth could become close to uninhabitable, and other parts horrifically inhospitable, as soon as the end of this century. Available On Amazon

The End of Ice: Bearing Witness and Finding Meaning in the Path of Climate Disruption

by Dahr Jamail
1620972344After nearly a decade overseas as a war reporter, the acclaimed journalist Dahr Jamail returned to America to renew his passion for mountaineering, only to find that the slopes he had once climbed have been irrevocably changed by climate disruption. In response, Jamail embarks on a journey to the geographical front lines of this crisis—from Alaska to Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, via the Amazon rainforest—in order to discover the consequences to nature and to humans of the loss of ice.  Available On Amazon

Our Earth, Our Species, Our Selves: How to Thrive While Creating a Sustainable World

by Ellen Moyer
1942936559Our scarcest resource is time. With determination and action, we can implement solutions rather than sit on the sidelines suffering harmful impacts. We deserve, and can have, better health and a cleaner environment, a stable climate, healthy ecosystems, sustainable use of resources, and less need for damage control. We have so much to gain. Through science and stories, Our Earth, Our Species, Our Selves makes the case for hope, optimism, and practical solutions we can take individually and collectively to green our technology, green our economy, strengthen our democracy, and create social equality. Available On Amazon

From The Publisher:
Purchases on Amazon go to defray the cost of bringing you,, and at no cost and without advertisers that track your browsing habits. Even if you click on a link but don't buy these selected products, anything else you buy in that same visit on Amazon pays us a small commission. There is no additional cost to you, so please contribute to the effort. You can also use this link to use to Amazon at any time so you can help support our efforts.



follow InnerSelf on

facebook icontwitter iconyoutube iconinstagram iconpintrest iconrss icon

 Get The Latest By Email

Weekly Magazine Daily Inspiration


The Great Climate Migration Has Begun
The Great Climate Migration Has Begun
by Super User
The climate crisis is forcing thousands around the world to flee as their homes become increasingly uninhabitable.
The Last Ice Age Tells Us Why We Need To Care About A 2℃ Change In Temperature
The Last Ice Age Tells Us Why We Need To Care About A 2℃ Change In Temperature
by Alan N Williams, et al
The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) states that without a substantial decrease…
Earth Has Stayed Habitable For Billions Of Years – Exactly How Lucky Did We Get?
Earth Has Stayed Habitable For Billions Of Years – Exactly How Lucky Did We Get?
by Toby Tyrrell
It took evolution 3 or 4 billion years to produce Homo sapiens. If the climate had completely failed just once in that…
How Mapping The Weather 12,000 Years Ago Can Help Predict Future Climate Change
How Mapping The Weather 12,000 Years Ago Can Help Predict Future Climate Change
by Brice Rea
The end of the last ice age, around 12,000 years ago, was characterised by a final cold phase called the Younger Dryas.…
The Caspian Sea Is Set To Fall By 9 Metres Or More This Century
The Caspian Sea Is Set To Fall By 9 Metres Or More This Century
by Frank Wesselingh and Matteo Lattuada
Imagine you are on the coast, looking out to sea. In front of you lies 100 metres of barren sand that looks like a…
Venus Was Once More Earth-like, But Climate Change Made It Uninhabitable
Venus Was Once More Earth-like, But Climate Change Made It Uninhabitable
by Richard Ernst
We can learn a lot about climate change from Venus, our sister planet. Venus currently has a surface temperature of…
Five Climate Disbeliefs: A Crash Course In Climate Misinformation
The Five Climate Disbeliefs: A Crash Course In Climate Misinformation
by John Cook
This video is a crash course in climate misinformation, summarizing the key arguments used to cast doubt on the reality…
The Arctic Hasn't Been This Warm For 3 Million Years and That Means Big Changes For The Planet
The Arctic Hasn't Been This Warm For 3 Million Years and That Means Big Changes For The Planet
by Julie Brigham-Grette and Steve Petsch
Every year, sea ice cover in the Arctic Ocean shrinks to a low point in mid-September. This year it measures just 1.44…


green energy2 3
Four Green Hydrogen Opportunities for the Midwest
by Christian Tae
To avert a climate crisis, the Midwest, like the rest of the country, will need to fully decarbonize its economy by…
Major Barrier to Demand Response Needs to End
by John Moore, On Earth
If federal regulators do the right thing, electricity customers across the Midwest may soon be able to earn money while…
trees to plant for climate2
Plant These Trees To Improve City Life
by Mike Williams-Rice
A new study establishes live oaks and American sycamores as champions among 17 “super trees” that will help make cities…
north sea sea bed
Why We Must Understand Seabed Geology To Harness The Winds
by Natasha Barlow, Associate Professor of Quaternary Environmental Change, University of Leeds
For any country blessed with easy access to the shallow and windy North Sea, offshore wind will be key to meeting net…
3 wildfire lessons for forest towns as Dixie Fire destroys historic Greenville, California
3 wildfire lessons for forest towns as Dixie Fire destroys historic Greenville, California
by Bart Johnson, Professor of Landscape Architecture, University of Oregon
A wildfire burning in hot, dry mountain forest swept through the Gold Rush town of Greenville, California, on Aug. 4,…
China Can Meet Energy and Climate Goals Capping Coal Power
China Can Meet Energy and Climate Goals Capping Coal Power
by Alvin Lin
At the Leader’s Climate Summit in April, Xi Jinping pledged that China will “strictly control coal-fired power…
Blue water surrounded by dead white grass
Map tracks 30 years of extreme snowmelt across US
by Mikayla Mace-Arizona
A new map of extreme snowmelt events over the last 30 years clarifies the processes that drive rapid melting.
A plane drops red fire retardant on to a forest fire as firefighters parked along a road look up into the orange sky
Model predicts 10-year burst of wildfire, then gradual decline
by Hannah Hickey-U. Washington
A look at the long-term future of wildfires predicts an initial roughly decade-long burst of wildfire activity,…

 Get The Latest By Email

Weekly Magazine Daily Inspiration

New Attitudes - New Possibilities | | | InnerSelf Market
Copyright ©1985 - 2021 InnerSelf Publications. All Rights Reserved.