Fossil Fuel Use Must Fall Faster to Contain Global Warming
Apr 08 2016 Comments 0
A study conducted by scientists at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) has concluded that in order to prevent a global temperature hike of 2°C, our consumption of fossil fuels must fall far more quickly than previously anticipated.
The report, named Nature Climate Change, predicts that previous estimates of how much carbon dioxide can safely be released into the atmosphere without running the risk of rising sea levels is an overestimation of anywhere between 50% - 200%. As such, it’s possible that we only actually have around half the amount of fuel available to us than previously thought.
Alarming Discoveries from Austria
Working alongside his European and Canadian counterparts, Joeri Rogelj from the IIASA in Austria re-examined the criteria which go into determining our “carbon budget”, which refers to the maximum amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) we can emit into the atmosphere without crossing the point of no return in terms of global warming.
It’s generally agreed that a maximum hike of 2°C must be avoided at all costs – and at the COP21 talks in Paris last year, the 196 nations of the world agreed to attempt to curb global warming at a much lower threshold. This carbon management must take place on both a governmental, industrial and individual level, if the planet is to survive intact.
The consensus appears to be that 590 billion tonnes of carbon can still safely be emitted into the atmosphere without jeopardising the fortunes of lower-lying island nations at risk of being submerged by rising sea levels. The difficulties come when determining the upper limit of allowable emissions – the absolute maximum amount that we can afford to consume.
By encompassing all forms of human activity and making allowances for changes in energy use and generation habits, Rogelj concluded that the very upper limit would reside around the 1,240 billion-mark. This is only just over half the previously conceived total of 2,390 billion tonnes, which means in practice we can only consume half of the amount of fossil fuels as previously thought.
Greater Understanding Makes for a Greater Chance at Success
However, Rogelj was optimistic about the results of the study.
“We now better understand the carbon budget for keeping global warming below 2°C. This carbon budget is very important to know because it defines how much carbon dioxide we are allowed to release into the atmosphere, ever,” he explained. “We have figured out that this budget is at the low end of what studies indicated before, and if we don’t start reducing our emissions immediately, we will blow it in a few decades.
The study also goes on to suggest that since we now know what is necessary in order to ensure we avoid an environmental disaster of catastrophic proportions, we should have a 66% chance of doing so.
Of course, all of these studies and surmises will be worth nothing if big businesses, governments and yes, individual citizens, do not begin to stand up and take responsibility for their environmental actions. At least we now know the full enormity of the challenge facing us.
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