Is there any carbon budget remaining?

David Spratt (author of "Climate Code Red: The case for emergency action") has written a very important report on the carbon budget & the myth of “burnable carbon”. His report contains inconvenient truths.

Here is his summary of this report:

Climate policy making is based on the twin propositions that two degrees Celsius (2°C) of global warming is an appropriate policy target, and that there is a significant carbon budget and amount of  “burnable carbon” allowable whilst meeting this target.

This survey concludes that the evidence does not support either of these propositions.

The catastrophic and irreversible consequences of 2°C of warming demand a strong risk-management approach, with a low rate of failure. We should not take risks with the climate that we would not take, for example, with civil infrastructure..

There is no carbon budget available:

  • If 2°C is considered a cap or upper boundary as per the Copenhagen Accord, rather than a hit-or-miss target which can be significantly exceeded;
  • If a low risk of exceeding 2°C is required;
  • If higher climate sensitivities incorporating carbon cycle feedbacks are taken into account;
  • For developed economies;
  • For fossil fuel emissions, after accounting for future food and deforestation emissions.

At just 0.8°C of global warming, the world is already experiencing dangerous climate change. West Antarctic glaciers are now in “unstoppable” meltdown for 1–4 metres of sea-level rise. This event is “a game changer”, and a “tipping point that none of us thought would pass so quickly” according to one leading Australian scientist.

Arctic tipping points have been crossed for sea-ice-free summer conditions, with severe consequences for the future stability of permafrost and frozen methane stores, sea-level rises, as well as accelerated global warming as ice sheets retreat and the Earth’s reflectivity decreases.

In reality, 2°C is the boundary between dangerous and very dangerous climate change and 1°C warmer than human civilisation has ever experienced.

The recent Paris talks do not address the urgency of reducing emissions. Bill McKibben, for one, emphasized the need for speed in The Guardian, following the conclusion of the Paris talks:

“Our only hope is to decisively pick up the pace. In fact, pace is now the key word for climate... Pace – velocity, speed, rate, momentum, tempo. We know where we’re going now; no one can doubt that the fossil fuel age has finally begun to wane, and that the sun is now shining on, well, solar. But the question, the only important question, is: how fast.”

and climate scientist Kevin Anderson writes:

“We have no carbon budget left for what I would say is a morally acceptable safe level [of warming]. We have seen 1 degree temperature rise already and we know that people are being severely impacted by that as it is today.”

George Monbiot has this to say about the Paris agreement:

[T]he UN climate process has focused entirely on the consumption of fossil fuels, while ignoring their production.

In Paris the delegates have solemnly agreed to cut demand, but at home they seek to maximise supply... Extracting fossil fuels is a hard fact. But the Paris agreement is full of soft facts: promises that can slip or unravel. Until governments undertake to keep fossil fuels in the ground, they will continue to undermine the agreement they have just made.

Canadian politicians continue to endorse pipelines. Energy East is acceptable to them because the bitumen it will carry will be exported. It will move the bitumen to refineries in Saint John and then we hope that the countries that import the oil will accept responsibility for reducing emissions. But we all know that the atmosphere does not care where these emissions come from.

We must keep up the pressure on our politicians (municipal, provincial and federal). We must demand rapid action to reduce our emissions not just reassuring words.