The Finnish Meteorological Institute has participated in research to estimate, based on climate model results and measurements, the maximum amount of carbon dioxide that can be released into the atmosphere without passing the climate warming limits set by the Paris Climate Agreement.
The fresh research has provided estimates that if only carbon dioxide emissions are considered then the total carbon dioxide budget that would keep warming below two degrees would be around 5000 gigatonnes. At the moment, human carbon dioxide emissions alone amount to around 36 gigatonnes per year. ‘Unfortunately, if we add up human emissions from the pre-industrial age to the present, then around 2000 gigatonnes out of the 5000 total have already been released into the atmosphere – so the situation is worrying,' explains Finnish Meteorological Institute researcher Antti-Ilari Partanen, who is currently carrying out research at Concordia University and was involved in the study.
When the warming effect of other greenhouse gases is also included in the carbon budget calculations, the quantity of emissions remaining is even smaller. ‘Instead of 5000 gigatonnes, we are speaking of only around 4000 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide. The size of the gap between these two figures depends largely on the development of climate policy worldwide. If emissions of other greenhouse gases and black carbon can be effectively reduced, this will increase slightly the available carbon budget,' Dr Partanen adds.
Large uncertainties related to carbon budget
‘Because it is easy to understand, the carbon budget is an excellent tool for climate policy,' Mr Partanen explains. It contains inherently the idea that greenhouse gas emissions must be reduced to zero and that the time available for this is limited.
There are still large uncertainties regarding the carbon budget due to lack of understanding of how the climate operates and lack of knowledge of how successful future climate policy will be. There is a surprisingly linear relationship between global warming and human carbon dioxide emissions since the pre-industrial age regardless of where and when these emissions were produced. By making use of this relationship, it is possible to define the ‘carbon budget' that corresponds to a particular increase in global temperatures.
The research was published in the Current Climate Change Reports journal, and it was funded by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) and the Emil Aaltonen Foundation. The authors of the review article included researchers from Concordia University, Sherbrooke University and Simon Fraser University in Canada, the Finnish Meteorological Institute and the British universities of Oxford, Exeter and Leeds.
Antti-Ilari Partanen, firstname.lastname@example.org (Most easily contacted by email due to time difference)
Matthews, H.D., Landry, JS., Partanen, AI. et al. Curr. Clim. Change Rep. (2017). doi:10.1007/s40641-017-0055-0
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