Climate Change Leadership – MOOC

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Carbon budgets and emission pathways

In this video, visiting Zennström climate change leadership professor Kevin Anderson introduces the concept of carbon budgets and why it is important for climate leadership and action.

Since carbon dioxide stays in the atmosphere for a long time, we only have a certain carbon budget of cumulative carbon emissions that can be emitted before a certain temperature threshold is met.

We’re currently heading up and […] we need to come down if we are going to hold to 2°C. If we fail to do anything in the near term, and of course that’s what most of us are doing […] then emissions at the global level will continue to rise. And because we have a set carbon budget, if they continue to rise then we will have to have much more stringent mitigation later.

This means that we need to focus just as much on current emissions as on long-term targets:

So it’s been very misleading these discussions about [emissions targets for] 2050, what we do today, and tomorrow, and the day after is really important. That is why actually, given that we’ve failed the last 25 years that is also very important because that carbon dioxide is in the atmosphere now for a hundred to ten thousand years and its changing the climate as we speak.

Since the carbon budgets are so tight, time is short if we are going to be able to meet the 2°C target:

Already, it will be extremely difficult for us to reduce our emissions in line with 2°C, but if don’t do something now it will be much more difficult. And very soon we will completely lose any opportunity for 2°C.


© Kevin Anderson, CEMUS and Uppsala University