Climate graphic of the week: the fast-shrinking carbon budget – Financial Times


Emissions need to reduce significantly to hit warming target. Chart showing estimated remaining carbon budgets (gigatonnes CO2) to limit warming to 1.5C. To have a 50% chance of limiting global warming to 1.5C the amount of carbon that can be emitted has roughly halved in the past three years

The world’s remaining “carbon budget”, or the amount of carbon dioxide that can be emitted to have a 50 per cent chance of limiting global warming to 1.5C, has halved in the past three years, a group of leading climate scientists have calculated.

That budget would be exhausted in less than six years at current emissions levels from energy of about 38bn tonnes a year, as a result of the continued pollution and taking into account the latest data showing temperatures were rising faster than expected, they said. 

“This is the critical decade for climate change,” said Piers Forster, director of the Priestley Centre for Climate Futures at the University of Leeds and lead author of the report released at the UN climate talks in Bonn, Germany.

To preserve the 1.5C goal at which scientists believe the effects of climate change on the plant are irreversible, “the world has to work much harder and urgently at bringing emissions down” or the carbon budget “will likely be exhausted in only a few years”, he said.

Last year was the fifth warmest on record, with the average global temperature almost 1.2C above pre-industrial levels.

This week, the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said that carbon dioxide levels were now “more than 50 per cent higher” than they had been in pre-industrial times.

Chart showing that atmospheric CO2 levels hit a record high in May 2023

Policymakers and researchers look to the UN IPCC climate reports, the definitive assessments of the state of warming and how to tackle it, to inform decision making. 

But the time taken to produce the papers, which span thousands of pages and are published at intervals of five to 10 years, created an “information gap”, said the researchers on Thursday, some of whom also co-authored the last major UN report.

That was particularly problematic given that climate indicators were changing rapidly, they said. 

“We need to be nimble footed in the face of climate change,” said Forster. “We need to change policy and approaches in the light of the latest evidence about the state of the climate system . . . Access to up-to-date information is vitally important.”

The scientists found that human-induced warming had reached 1.14C above pre-industrial levels on average for the decade between 2013 and 2022, up from 1.07C between 2010 and 2019. 

Greenhouse gas emissions were at “an all-time high” and human-induced warming had increased at the “unprecedented” rate of more than 0.2C per decade over the past 10 years, said the wide-ranging paper, published in the journal Earth System Science Data

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