World's Carbon Budget Is Only Half as Big as Thought
Climate scientists have bad news for governments, energy companies, motorists, passengers and citizens everywhere in the world: to contain global warming to the limits agreed by 195 nations in Paris last December, they will have to cut fossil fuel combustion at an even faster rate than anybody had predicted.
Joeri Rogelj, research scholar at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Austria and European and Canadian colleagues propose in Nature Climate Change that all previous estimates of the quantities of carbon dioxide that can be released into the atmosphere before the thermometer rises to potentially catastrophic levels are too generous.
Instead of a range of permissible emissions estimates that ranged up to 2,390 billion tons from 2015 onwards, the very most humans could release would be 1,240 billion tons.
In effect, that halves the levels of diesel and petrol available for petrol tanks, coal for power stations and natural gas for central heating and cooking available to humankind before the global average temperature—already 1 C higher than it was at the start of the Industrial Revolution—reaches the notional 2 C mark long agreed internationally as being the point of no return for the planet.
In fact, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change summit in Paris agreed a target “well below” 2 C, in recognition of ominous projections—one of which was that, at such planetary temperatures, sea levels would rise high enough to submerge several small island states.
The Nature Climate Change paper is a restatement of a problem that has been clear for decades. Carbon dioxide proportions in the atmosphere are linked to planetary surface temperatures and, as they rise, so does average temperature. For most of human history, these proportions oscillated around 280 parts per million.
The global exploitation, on a massive scale, of fossil fuels drove the expansion of agriculture, the growth of economies, a sevenfold growth in human population, a sea level rise of 14 cms and a temperature rise of, so far, 1 C.
To stop temperatures increasing another 3 C or more and sea levels rising by more than a meter, humans have to reduce fossil fuel emissions. By how much these must be reduced is difficult to calculate.
The global carbon budget is really the balance between what animals emit—in this context, the word animals includes humans with cars and aeroplanes and factories—and what plants and algae can absorb. So the calculations are bedevilled by uncertainties about forests, grasslands and oceans.
To make things simpler, climate scientists translate the target into the billions of tons of carbon dioxide that, ideally, may be released into the atmosphere from 2015 onwards. Even these, however, are estimates.
There is general agreement that a limit of 590 billion tons would safely keep the world from overheating in ways that would impose ever greater strains on human society. The argument is about the upper limit of such estimates.
Dr. Rogelj said:
“In order to have a reasonable chance of keeping global warming below 2 C, we can only emit a certain amount of carbon dioxide, ever. That’s our carbon budget.
“This has been understood for about a decade and the physics behind this concept are well understood, but many different factors can lead to carbon budgets that are either slightly smaller or slightly larger. We wanted to understand these differences and to provide clarity on the issue for policy-makers and the public.
“This study shows that, in some cases, we have been overestimating the budget by 50 to more than 200 percent. At the high end, this is a difference of more than 1,000 billion tons of carbon dioxide.”
The same study takes a closer look at why estimates of the “safe” level of emissions have varied so widely.
One complicating factor has been, of course, uncertainty about what humans might do and another has been about the other more transient greenhouse gases, such as methane and the oxides of nitrogen.
Although short-lived and released in smaller quantities, some of these are potentially far more potent than carbon dioxide as an influence on planetary temperatures.
But Dr. Rogelj and his colleagues found that a significant cause of variation was simply a consequence of the different assumptions and methodologies inherent in such complex calculations.
So the researchers have re-examined both the options and the approaches and have worked out a global figure that, they suggest, could be relevant to “real-world policy.”
It takes into account the consequences of all human activity and it embraces detailed outlines of possible low-carbon choices. It also offers, they say, a 66 percent chance of staying within the internationally-agreed limit.
“We now better understand the carbon budget for keeping global warming below 2 C,” Dr. Rogelj said. “This carbon budget is very important to know because it defines how much carbon dioxide we are allowed to release into the atmosphere, ever.
“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.”
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theDOCK aims to innovate the Israeli maritime sector. Pexels<p>The UN hopes that new investments in ocean science and technology will help turn the tide for the oceans. As such, this year kicked off the <a href="https://www.oceandecade.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021-2030)</a> to galvanize massive support for the blue economy.</p><p>According to the World Bank, the blue economy is the "sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth, improved livelihoods, and jobs while preserving the health of ocean ecosystem," <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0160412019338255#b0245" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Science Direct</a> reported. It represents this new sector for investments and innovations that work in tandem with the oceans rather than in exploitation of them.</p><p>As recently as Aug. 2020, <a href="https://www.reutersevents.com/sustainability/esg-investors-slow-make-waves-25tn-ocean-economy" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Reuters</a> noted that ESG Investors, those looking to invest in opportunities that have a positive impact in environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues, have been interested in "blue finance" but slow to invest.</p><p>"It is a hugely under-invested economic opportunity that is crucial to the way we have to address living on one planet," Simon Dent, director of blue investments at Mirova Natural Capital, told Reuters.</p><p>Even with slow investment, the blue economy is still expected to expand at twice the rate of the mainstream economy by 2030, Reuters reported. It already contributes $2.5tn a year in economic output, the report noted.</p><p>Current, upward <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/-innovation-blue-economy-2646147405.html" target="_self">shifts in blue economy investments are being driven by innovation</a>, a trend the UN hopes will continue globally for the benefit of all oceans and people.</p><p>In Israel, this push has successfully translated into investment in and innovation of global ports, shipping, logistics and offshore sectors. The "Startup Nation," as Israel is often called, has seen its maritime tech ecosystem grow "significantly" in recent years and expects that growth to "accelerate dramatically," <a href="https://itrade.gov.il/belgium-english/how-israel-is-becoming-a-port-of-call-for-maritime-innovation/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">iTrade</a> reported.</p><p>Driving this wave of momentum has been rising Israeli venture capital hub <a href="https://www.thedockinnovation.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">theDOCK</a>. Founded by Israeli Navy veterans in 2017, theDOCK works with early-stage companies in the maritime space to bring their solutions to market. The hub's pioneering efforts ignited Israel's maritime technology sector, and now, with their new fund, theDOCK is motivating these high-tech solutions to also address ESG criteria.</p><p>"While ESG has always been on theDOCK's agenda, this theme has become even more of a priority," Nir Gartzman, theDOCK's managing partner, told EcoWatch. "80 percent of the startups in our portfolio (for theDOCK's Navigator II fund) will have a primary or secondary contribution to environmental, social and governance (ESG) criteria."</p><p>In a company presentation, theDOCK called contribution to the ESG agenda a "hot discussion topic" for traditional players in the space and their boards, many of whom are looking to adopt new technologies with a positive impact on the planet. The focus is on reducing carbon emissions and protecting the environment, the presentation outlines. As such, theDOCK also explicitly screens candidate investments by ESG criteria as well.</p><p>Within the maritime space, environmental innovations could include measures like increased fuel and energy efficiency, better monitoring of potential pollution sources, improved waste and air emissions management and processing of marine debris/trash into reusable materials, theDOCK's presentation noted.</p>
theDOCK team includes (left to right) Michal Hendel-Sufa, Head of Alliances, Noa Schuman, CMO, Nir Gartzman, Co-Founder & Managing Partner, and Hannan Carmeli, Co-Founder & Managing Partner. Dudu Koren<p>theDOCK's own portfolio includes companies like Orca AI, which uses an intelligent collision avoidance system to reduce the probability of oil or fuel spills, AiDock, which eliminates the use of paper by automating the customs clearance process, and DockTech, which uses depth "crowdsourcing" data to map riverbeds in real-time and optimize cargo loading, thereby reducing trips and fuel usage while also avoiding groundings.</p><p>"Oceans are a big opportunity primarily because they are just that – big!" theDOCK's Chief Marketing Officer Noa Schuman summarized. "As such, the magnitude of their criticality to the global ecosystem, the magnitude of pollution risk and the steps needed to overcome those challenges – are all huge."</p><p>There is hope that this wave of interest and investment in environmentally-positive maritime technologies will accelerate the blue economy and ESG investing even further, in Israel and beyond.</p>
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