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Visualizing the Global Carbon Budget

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) delivers a clear and compelling message: Climate change impacts are accelerating, and they’re fueled largely by human-caused emissions. The IPCC is set to release the second and third installments of its report over the next month, providing a deeper look at the current and projected impacts of a warmer world, as well as mitigation strategies we can implement to limit future warming.

One of the most significant findings of the report’s first installment is quantifying the “carbon budget.” This is the amount of carbon dioxide the world can emit while still having a likely chance of limiting average global temperature rise to 2°C above pre-industrial levels, an internationally agreed-upon target. According to the report, we’ve already burned through 52 percent of the budget. And we have calculated that if emissions continue unabated, we’ll exceed it entirely in about 30 years. Blowing this budget would expose the world to more severe forest fires, extreme weather, sea level rise, and other climate impacts.

There’s a lot we can learn about the carbon budget—what it is, what the impacts will be if we exceed it, and how we can stay within it. WRI created the below infographic to help explain the complexities behind this critically important topic.

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