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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.

Click to view infographic


I think you need to scale the energy budget down to what it would likely mean to "ordinary" citizens, especially in industrial nations like the US. For example: how would we need to change the ways we heat/cool our houses/buildings, how would we travel, how would we need to change our diets and means of growing food, how much electricity could we count on in an "average" home, how would our systems of production/manufacturing need to change, what changes in population are necessary and how best to achieve that, what energy supplies are really sustainable and safe?

Unless citizens can see some possibility of a life, a far more energy restricted life, possible in the future, where they and their children can actually survive, then almost everyone will support "business as usual" even knowing that it leads to climate chaos, civil violence, pestilence, famine, floods and wars.

I have some ideas on how to proceed, if you're willing to devote some resources in this direction. [ricst (at) usa (dot) net].

Unfortunately you got the numbers wrong. You include non-carbon gases. Without them, not 485 GtC are left, but rather only 285 GtC could still be emitted, leaving only 25 years worth of current (less, if rising) emissions. And what you also fail to mention: these (IPCC) numbers only provide a 2 in 3 chance of staying below 2°. A 33% chance of missing the target is a very risky bet, because we are basically betting our children's lives on "staying below". Here you can find some background:

I have only just come across this article and thank you for the infographic - an effective way to present the numbers in aggregate. I would however agree with both of the above comments. Non-CO2 forcing needs to be included (therefore reducing the available budget to 285 GtC). This would translate to an even earlier peaking year and faster rate of global emissions reductions based on rising global emissions BAU. It would be great to translate these targets into personal carbon budgets to enable action by all individuals in their personal lifestyle choices.

Please see the end of the infographic which explains what happens when non-CO2 forcings are taken into account. Indeed, it only leaves two decades if emissions-intensive rates continue.

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