Carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere have risen from 280 parts per million before the industrial revolution to 400 parts per million now. These rising carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere are changing our climate. The largest sources of the emissions are from burning fossil fuels, industrial emissions, and land use change. Anthropogenic carbon emissions being the cause of climate change is a scientifically accepted fact.
Climate change and carbon emissions (predominantly carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4)) are having an effect on us all. We can already see and feel its effects, particularly in northern climates, where its effects are most evident. Some of the effects of climate change include: reduced sea ice, increased sea level rise, longer more intense heat waves, and changing precipitation patterns.
In 2015 the much heralded Paris Climate Agreement was reached. This has the goal to hold the increase in global average temperature to below 2oC above the pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5oC above pre-industrial levels”. So what does this mean for all of us carbon emitters, what is our carbon budget?
According to Joeri Rogelj et al.1 in the “Differences between carbon budget estimates unravelled”, in order to limit warming below 2oC relative to preindustrial levels with a greater than 66% chance, the most appropriate carbon budget estimate is a total of between 590 and 1240 Gt CO2 from 2015 onward. The current annual global carbon dioxide emissions are about 40Gt CO2/year. This means that globally we have between 15 and 30 years to become net zero carbon dioxide emitters. Yikes! That is a hugely daunting task.
As Canadians, we may say that as a country we only emit approximately 2% of global emissions but those are the emissions generated within our country. What about the effects we have outside our country? We use international aviation and shipping which is not counted in those totals, and we buy huge quantities of products from other countries, which would be included in their totals (and vice versa for the products we export). On a per capita basis Canadians are some of the highest emitters on the planet (see attached image), emitting over 20 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent. This is huge, especially when taking into account the world average of 6 tonnes per person based on 2012 data.
So what are we going to do about this? The provincial governments across the country are starting to introduce pricing on carbon, but it is too early to tell what effects these will have both on carbon emissions or the quality of our lives. Weaning ourselves off fossil fuels could be very painful and create some real hardship depending on how we do it. I believe if done well, we can create high quality lives without the carbon emissions. There will be some big challenges ahead, but to ensure, as individuals, we maintain high quality lives and the changes are not just imposed on us from the same people, corporations and governments, that have helped create the problem we need to take control of our own carbon emissions and generate our own solutions as much as possible.
Subsequent posts will examine my own journey and challenges in creating a high quality net zero carbon life.
1. Rogelj, Joeri, et al. “Differences between carbon budget estimates unravelled.” Nature Climate Change 6.3 (2016): 245-252