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World Is Running Out of Carbon Budget to Limit Global Warming to 1.5C, Scientists Warn

CRISIS - Atmospheric CO2 Levels by Martina Igini Global Commons Jun 9th 20233 mins
World Is Running Out of Carbon Budget to Limit Global Warming to 1.5C, Scientists Warn

As greenhouse gas emissions reach an all-time high, experts warn that the carbon budget we have left to keep global warming below the Paris Agreement 1.5C threshold is much smaller than previously thought.

Human-induced global warming rates are at their highest level in history, bringing humanity closer to reaching the 1.5C of global warming much sooner than expected, new research suggests.

Scientists behind a new study published in the journal Earth System Science Data on Thursday found that the world is rapidly running out of its carbon budget, the cumulative amount of carbon dioxide we have left to emit before we exceed our desired global temperature increase. 

Currently, experts estimate that only about 250 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) can be emitted to avoid an accumulation of greenhouse gases (GHG) that would push global temperatures beyond the key limit of 1.5C above pre-industrial levels. This is down from the previous 2020 estimate of 500 billion tonnes of CO2. 

According to the researchers behind the paper, at the current annual rate of GHG emissions, the carbon budget would run out well before the end of the current decade. Emissions have been at an all-time high of about 54 billion tons/year for about ten years, leading to an unprecedented increase in human-induced warming of over 0.2C per decade. According to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) measurements, atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) levels peaked at 424 parts per million in May, a value that is more than double the amount of atmospheric CO2 before the onset of the Industrial Revolution in the 19th century.

Speaking with the Guardian, Joeri Rogelj, co-author of the new study, said the report serves as a wake-up call: “The years of continued high emissions as the updates the remaining carbon budget mean that by now we should be doing more,” he said. 

“That means either moving forward the global goal net zero date for CO2 from around 2050 to about 2035, or cutting much deeper by 2030.”

Not all is doom and gloom, however, since considerable progress had been made in the deployment of green technology around the world in recent years and advancements in the clean energy sector indicate that there is still hope that humanity will change the course before the impacts of global warming become irreversible.

Last week, the International Energy Agency (IEA) said that investments in clean technologies – such as renewable energy, electric vehicles, and low-emissions fuels – are forecast to reach $1.7 trillion this year. In comparison, $1 trillion will go into fossil fuel projects. Demand for planet-warming fossil fuels is also expected to plateau in 2025, indicating that the world is on track to move on to cleaner sources of energy.

The “unprecedented momentum” in renewable energy manufacturing and global spending on clean energy was triggered by several factors, including a strong rebound in economic growth following the Covid-19 pandemic, effective climate policies such as the US Inflation Reduction Act, and rising fossil fuel prices triggered by the war in Ukraine.

World leaders are currently in Bonn, Germany, to prepare for the long-awaited UN climate commit, COP28, which will take place this November in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and is seen by many as one of the last chances for the world to contain global warming and fulfil the Paris Agreement goal after governments failed to commit to phasing out all fossil fuels at last year’s COP27.

Despite controversies over his appointment, COP28 chief Sultan Al-Jaber, who is also the head of oil giant Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC), insists that the 1.5C goal is “non-negotiable” and on multiple occasions pledged to phase out fossil fuel emissions – rather than production. His statement, however, effectively leaves the door open for the continued production and use of fossil fuels, which the UAE, this year’s COP host, has repeatedly described as “key” components to a smooth energy transition.

You might also like: Most Planetary Boundaries Beyond ‘Safe and Just Limit’, Scientists Say

Tagged: carbon budget

About the Author

Martina Igini

Martina is the Managing Editor at Earth.Org. She holds two BA degrees, in Translation/Interpreting Studies and Journalism, and a MA in International Development from the University of Vienna. After working at the United Nations Global Communication Department in Vienna, she joined a newspaper in Italy as a reporter before moving to Hong Kong in 2020. Her interests include sustainability and the role of public policy in environmental protection with a focus on developing countries.

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