Editorial June 2019

What do we know about our carbon budget and should we be alarmed!

Here are the facts: CO2@ rose 3.5 ppm last year which was the second highest rise in history. The level now stands at 414.7 ppm and the danger zone is 450ppm, which will risk triggering extreme weather events and temperature rises of 2C. This would indicate that at the current rate of increase (3.5ppm) we will cross that threshold in approximately 10 years.

Co2 Chart

Let’s look at this from another perspective. In a recent edition of the Sydney Morning Herald Penny Sackett, former Chief Scientists of Australia and an honorary Professor at the Climate Change Institute, as well as Will Steffen, Emeritus Professor at the ANU, and councillor at the Climate Council, wrote an article that demonstrated that our carbon budget is all but spent.
Here is a paraphrase of their article:

The emission budget humans must not exceed is 1000 billion tonnes of carbon. [That is the total carbon budget from the beginning of the industrial revolution to keep temperatures below 2C with a 2/3 chance].

Humans have already emitted 585 billion tonnes of carbon over the course of history until the end of last year.

In addition, green house gases methane and nitrous oxide are also causing warming and their emissions are calculated at 210 billion tonnes.

That leaves roughly 205 billion tonnes leeway before we cross the 1000 billion tonne threshold! This figure, however, has to be reduced further because warming increases the release of land carbon to the atmosphere specifically through bush fires and the melting of permafrosts, effects not accounted for by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

The conclusion of Penny Sackett and Will Steffen: Only 95 billion tonnes are left to spend on carbon dioxide emissions and with 10 billion tonnes of carbon emitted every year, without immediate action, humanity will burn through the remaining budget in just 10 years.

And their absolutely final conclusion: At that point (in 10 years) the chances of holding warming to 2 degrees will drop below 2/3 and we might as well flip a coin to know whether the climate will exceed boundaries maintained for more than 1 million years.

They are the facts from two of Australia’s foremost authorities on climate change.

All of this raises concern about a government that:
(a) doesn’t seem to put a priority to emission reduction
(b) doesn’t seem to have a national policy on climate change, and
(c) can’t see any need to let the market have its influence on a carbon abatement program via a price on carbon (despite recommendations from the likes of BHP and Woodside that this is the policy that is needed).

The policy of the AIEA is clear on matters such as this. We put ecology front and centre of any decision and this means we must avoid the 2 degree increase with all the muscle we can muster. If this means putting the nation on a war footing then so be it. It is that serious. Unless the coalition government and other world leaders start to view it in that light it is most likely that humanity will exceed its CO2 in-the-atmosphere budget by 2029, which will lead to positive feedback systems, and a world climate that will beyond anything ever experience on this beautiful and unique planet.

Kerry Cochrane
Editor

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