Our Planetary Carbon Budget: It’s everybody’s business

The fiscal conservative demands that we must pay attention to our bottom line. We can’t spend every penny we make and certainly cannot mortgage the future of our children and grandchildren.  The fiscal conservative certainly would not dip into his own hard-earned savings today, knowing that he will need it for his retirement years.

Why then is the fiscal conservative so willing to spend our entire Carbon Budget now with no regard for the future?

Our planet has a total Carbon Budget of 1,000 gigatonnes.  That’s 1,000,000,000,000 tonnes.

This Budget means that we have a better than two-thirds chance of keeping our average planetary warming to less than +2oC relative to pre-industrial temperatures if we limit the cumulative CO2 emissions into our atmosphere to less than 1,000 gigatonnes relative to the pre-industrial era.

Pathway to Two Degrees

Pathway to Two Degrees

By 2011, we had already spent half of that Budget.  We are now dipping into the Carbon Budget that belongs to our children, grandchildren and future generations.

This does not mean that there will be no more fossil fuels in the ground if we exceed our Carbon Budget.  There will still be plenty of coal, petroleum, and natural gas to burn.  It does mean, however, that we have reached the absolute upper limit of CO2 we can put into our atmosphere and still live in a habitable world.

At the recent UN climate conference in Warsaw, I attended a very informative talk by Sandrine Dixon-Decleve, Director of the European Union Corporate Leaders Group.  She emphatically stated that “we [in the business community] must stop talking about something beyond +2oC. The business community sometimes asks about a +3oC or +4oC world.  The science says we can’t live in that scenario.  Companies need to imbed this science into their DNA.  Then, they need to simplify this message for their shareholders and board.”

Climate change is everyone’s business.  Rising temperatures, rising sea levels, ocean acidification, disappearing glaciers, and changes in rainfall pattern, all of these, directly impact the business sector.

It is now up to business to respond to the costs leveled by climate related disasters.  It is up to business to embrace the known near-future costs anticipated from extreme weather events.  It is now up to business to embrace the opportunities presented by the climate challenge.

But, the business community must demand action by our policy makers as well.  Meeting the +2oC target means spending what remains of our carbon budget wisely.  The future trajectory of greenhouse gas emissions largely depends on policy decisions and legislation made by our governments.

The IPCC fifth Assessment Report—the science—tells us that we must follow an ‘Aggressive’ mitigation pathway or we will reach our budget limit by 2050-2070.  ‘Aggressive’ means that emissions must halve by 2050.  We may even need to remove CO2 from the air before 2100 in order to stay below +2oC.

A business-as-usual scenario means that we WILL reach a +4oC world by the end of this century.

The science tells us that limiting CO2 concentrations by the end of this century may generally constrain climate impacts.  Climate impacts still cannot be entirely avoided, but the world will be habitable.

Climate change is everybody’s business!

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