Confused about carbon budgets for the Paris climate goals? Zero by 2050 or 2030? 1.5°C or 2°C? Overshoot or not?
There is a maze of contradictory positions, claiming to be based on research evidence. But the assumptions behind much of that evidence obscures some startling conclusions.
The Breakthough Briefing Note on “Carbon budgets for 1.5 & 2°C”, released March 2, explores some of the myths and realities about the Paris Agreement targets and the associated carbon budgets, and what it would really take to achieve them.
The main findings are:
- IPCC carbon budgets underestimate current and future warming, omit important climate system feedback mechanisms, and make dangerous assumptions about risk-management.
- 1.5°C of warming is likely by 2030 or earlier, a product of past emissions.
- There is no carbon budget for the 1.5°C goal; such “budgets” rely on overshoot, with unrealistic reliance on speculative technologies.
- The current level of greenhouse gases is enough for around 2°C of warming, or more.
- 2°C of warming is far from safe, and may trigger the “Hothouse Earth” scenario.
- There is no carbon budget for 2°C if a sensible risk-management approach is taken.
- Even accepting the IPCC carbon budget for 2°C at face value, emissions need to be zero before 2030 for developed countries with higher per capita emissions.
- Forget about 2050, we’re blowing the carbon budget right now (2009)
- A new reality check on the global carbon emissions budget (2009)
- Commission’s call for carbon budget beyond political belief (2011)
- Confused about the new IPCC’s carbon budget? So am I. (2013)
- Carbon budgets, climate sensitivity and the myth of “burnable carbon” (2014)
- The real budgetary emergency and the myth of “burnable carbon” (2014)
- No carbon budget left to burn (2014)
- Unravelling the myth of a “carbon budget” for 1.5C (2016)
- IPCC’s political fix on 1.5°C will undermine its credibility (2018)
- What goes up must come down: It’s time for a carbon drawdown budget (2018)
- As warming approaches 1.5°C, talk of a carbon budget for the Paris targets is delusional (2020)
- Net-zero emissions by 2050: Leadership or climate colonialism? (2020)
The problem is that carbon budgets, picked out of thin air by underestimating warming, using low climate sensitivity figures, making assumptions about technologies that don’t exist in a functioning manner now, and similar sleights of hand, have become a foundation for mythologies about the Paris Agreement and excuses for delay.
In demystifying carbon budgets, we also need a frank conversation about Paris. More than five years after the agreement was signed, current national emission reduction commitments will lead to emission levels in 2030 just 1% below the 2010 level.
When will the penny drop that Paris has failed catastrophically?