Home > Uncategorized > Greenhouse-gas emissions: current level, proposed level and level needed to avoid calamity

Greenhouse-gas emissions: current level, proposed level and level needed to avoid calamity

from David Ruccio

cc math

The math behind the chart starts with the “carbon budget“:

Noting that the relationship between the amount of carbon dioxide we put in the atmosphere and the eventual global temperature is “near linear,” the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change calculated the maximum amount the world could emit for a one-third, 50 percent or two-thirds chance of keeping warming below two degrees.

The resulting headline: As of 2011, the world had about 1,000 gigatons, or billion metric tons, of carbon dioxide left to emit in order to have a two-thirds or greater chance of staying below two degrees. After that, net emissions must go to zero.

From here you simply do the math. Energy-related carbon dioxide emissions alone were 32.3 gigatons last year, according to the International Energy Agency, and that does not include other sources, such as deforestation. Based on such numbers, the remaining carbon budget is already under 900 gigatons of carbon dioxide. . .

once you take future deforestation and cement-related emissions between now and 2100 into account, the remaining budget is just 650 gigatons of energy-related emissions. That’s about 20 years at current rates — but emissions are still rising. That trend is currently expected to continue out to 2025 or 2030, despite countries’ recent carbon-cutting pledges, in large part because of growing demand for energy in coming decades.

The UNFCCC recently acknowledged that these pledges, on their own, would hold warming to perhaps only 2.7 degrees Celsius — other analyses are still more pessimistic — and, therefore, that much more must be done in Paris and beyond to ensure attainment of the two-degree goal.

And here’s a link to Charles Ferguson’s new film, Time to Choose, which readers can view for the next 48 hours.

  1. Jorge Buzaglo
    December 3, 2015 at 4:08 pm

    “Climate change is inextricably linked to economic inequality: it is a crisis that is driven by the greenhouse gas emissions of the ‘haves’ that hits the ‘have-nots’ the hardest.”

    “The average footprint of the richest 1% of people globally could be 175 times that of the poorest 10%.”

    “The poorest half of the global population – around 3.5 billion people – are responsible for only around 10% of total global emissions attributed to individual consumption, yet live overwhelmingly in the countries most vulnerable to climate change. Around 50% of these emissions meanwhile can be attributed to the richest 10% of people around the world, who have average carbon footprints 11 times as high as the poorest half of the population, and 60 times as high as the poorest 10%.”

    See: Oxfam Media Briefing, 2 December 2015, “Extreme Carbon Inequality: Why the Paris climate deal must put the poorest, lowest emitting and most vulnerable people first” (https://www.oxfam.org/sites/www.oxfam.org/files/file_attachments/mb-extreme-carbon-inequality-021215-en.pdf)

  2. December 3, 2015 at 7:13 pm

    This debate is interesting, as a debate. But it goes nowhere. I’ve participated in dozens of such debates attempting to defend and promote “temperate” and “conservative” policies about all public policy matters, not just CO2 emissions. “If a man finds that his nature tends or is disposed to one of these extremes…, he should turn back and improve, so as to walk in the way of good people, which is the right way. The right way is the mean in each group of dispositions common to humanity; namely, that disposition which is equally distant from the two extremes in its class, not being nearer to the one than to the other.”— Maimonides In this Maimonides was reflecting Greek and Minoan, and later Islamic beliefs. What is the middle position between the extremes of CO2 emissions and climate change? I’ve attempted to advocate for a “why take unnecessary risks” position on these questions. Limit CO2 where possible, mitigate where necessary, and adapt where required by dangers imposed.

  3. graccibros
    December 4, 2015 at 12:33 pm

    David, I thought you and I hope other contributors and readers to this site would find the following posting I did just a few days ago, at the Daily Kos, of some interest. It’s a blend of economics and environment pertaining to global warming, and especially my link to the talk by “Manchester” teaching engineer and global warming scientist Kevin Anderson, who zeroes in on precisely the carbon budgets you cite above. And the irony, given what he is asking us to do, and why we can’t do it (that’s my contribution, as well as “your own” Richard’s Smith not very often talked about book, “‘Green Capitalism’ the God that failed.”

    Here my post under the title “Heading to Paris to Fight Global Warming: Can Capitalism Save Itself?”

    “I found this James Hansen piece very interesting and not politically correct at all, dissing Big Green (and Bill McKibben and Naomi Klein, unnamed but clear) and saying we can do an easier more effective business with the Chinese. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dr-james-hansen/title-tk_1_b_8665400.html For those like William Nordhaus, the economist go to “fixer” for the establishment in the NY Review of Books, who believes that capitalism got us into this mess and only capitalism can get us out, via cap and trade, a big import tariff against carbon heavy products imposed by the “Club” of advanced nations, or a carbon tax, http://www.nybooks.com/articles/2015/06/04/new-solution-climate-club/ … well then, I keep waiting for the leaders of capitalism to act. Hansen says he hears them and sees them moving this way behind the scenes. Like the “democracy in action” of the TPP, I guess. Also from the Review, in the actual book review of the bio of high-tech hero Elon Musk, I heard a sigh expressing relief that he has proven with Tesla cars and Solar City financing packages that we don’t have to lower our living standards to save the planet: technology in the hands of new Henry Ford types will spare us. Oh spare me, please. http://www.nybooks.com/articles/2015/08/13/elon-musk-man-mars/

    Well, I’ll ask once again: can capitalism save itself? Isn’t it in the self-interest of its leaders not to put the eternal albatross of destroying the climate around its neck, because surely that is where it hangs, along with Pappy Bush’s not so eloquent declarative statement that “the American Way of Life is not negotiable”?

    I don’t believe a system based on hyper-competitiveness can reverse its values, especially across international borders, not on the time frame, quite short, that is required. I’ll change my mind when I see a public letter signed by the world’s wealthiest 1,000 capitalists endorsing the carbon tax now, done in the same spirit as J.P. Morgan once did, or the Federal Reserve creation push started, to save capitalism from the extremes of the values it lives and feeds by. From itself. They could do it but they won’t. I hope I’m wrong but I have too many broken teeth from their elbows along the way, to think better.

    If you think we are on a good, comfortable, ” in time” course, also consider this from engineer Kevin Anderson: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZF1zNpzf8RM . Anderson peels away the happy talk and the illusions covering our failures so far to keep the magnitude of warming from crossing the threshold where very bad things may happen much more quickly than we once thought. That possibility leads us back to Dr. Hansen’s and colleagues most recent scientific findings, published this summer, about how fast changes happened in the “recent” geologic era of rapid warming. Here at http://www.atmos-chem-phys-discuss.net/15/20059/2015/acpd-15-20059-2015-print.pdf

    And if Anderson’s talk doesn’t work for you, consider Richard Smith’s compact book, Green Capitalism, the God that Failed. http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/21060-green-capitalism-the-god-that-failed Once again, it’s a systematic shredding of illusions, of all the hopes once contained in the works of Paul Hawken (and the Lovins) from the 1990’s. As for Smith’s analysis, there’s none better, extending even to the teaching textbooks of famous economists, including Paul Krugman, pointing out how few pages are devoted, even at this very late date, to the adverse ecological impacts of the mighty system behind globalization, or, if you prefer, neoliberalism. Even Herman Daly and yes, Naomi Klein come up short for the lapses in their analyses. As for his remedies, however logical they may be, pushing to the left of even Bernie Sanders, I can’t follow yet. He may well be correct, but I know the public I see around me is not there, not even close. How this vast necessary act of persuasion is going to unfold in the crippled system which Sheldon Wolin’s saw in Democracy Inc. I don’t know, but a revitalized democracy it must be. It would seem that despite the course Hansen sees Nature set upon, it hasn’t yet delivered a dramatic enough message to move the public, much less the more reluctant powers that drive today’s capitalism, such as it is. They’re not even buying the solution, a carbon tax, which comes from the market friendly economists closest to their own supposed preferences. Despite all that has happened since the late 1990’s in the way of almost continual economic shocks, the hold of Market “Utopianism” has not been broken, and “interventions” whether to save the climate or the citizens (as in candidate Sanders’ support for FDR’s Second Bill of Rights) still have the aura of religious “heresy” around them.



    Frostburg, MD

    • John McDonald/mcbockalds
      December 7, 2015 at 4:19 pm

      graccibros, wow, now it is my turn to thank you for your helpful comments and wealth of links.

  4. graccibros
    December 4, 2015 at 2:49 pm


    I wanted to call your and reader’s attention to a talk which focuses very much on the same area you have posted about here, including carbon budgets. It’s by an engineer, Kevin Anderson, who teaches at the Univ. of Manchester in England, and it’s B school too, as well as working at the Tyndall Center for Climate Change…Economists please note the irony of someone teaching at the “Manchester School” and on this topic. Here’s the link for the 54 minute lecture: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZF1zNpzf8RM

    I like to frame this up a bit differently than Paul Krugman did in his Friday morning NY Times column. The Republican Right is to blame surely, for being the point people in blocking progress, but isn’t it true also that the business “community” (hardly a “community,” you’re right) can’t seem to come together in the way they might have in our earlier Gilded Age, under J.P. Morgan, to save the system from itself. After all, there is no consensus among the economic private powers for even the common denominator, market friendly, plain vanilla “carbon tax.” Why is that? Why can’t the system “save itself?” One of your colleagues here at the forum, has delivered his answers to exactly that question, Richard Smith, agree with him or not, that’s what he’s taken head on in “Green Capitalism: The God that Failed.”

  5. graccibros
    December 4, 2015 at 7:43 pm

    Let me just add, in reference to the long and short versions I’ve posted above, that William Nordhaus’s “The Climate Club” from the June 4, 2015 issue of the NY Review of Books attempts to take, head on, the question of why “we” are failing at limiting greenhouse gas emissions, are heading for trouble. His answer, “free riding” on what he calls public goods – get the benefit but not the cost if you don’t act – is full of evasions as to where power really lies, at times he says gov’ts, the inability to forge treaties, international ones that would be binding…but never the responsibility of the great economic actors: investors, corporations, pension funds and yes, let us not forget, the controllers of flows of capital, the great international banks in New York, London, Zurich, Frankfort, Hong Kong…which seem to be great at fending off regulations and making sure there are no effective international labor organizations – with the great bowing and nodding of all the relevant gov’ts who seem to defer on the issues I’ve just named…but the economic powers that be are just helpless for the greenhouse gas task at hand…I find Richard Smith’s explanations to be a bit better in the book I cited above, in the direction he has taken – asking what are the causal driving mechanisms and values of capitalism itself…that has never been an uncontroversial area with consensus answers, even on the left. My challenge remains: if capital can see to it that great tax havens are organized and kept free of regulations…it seems an international carbon tax should not be beyond reach…

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