What Is “Carbon Space”?
Carbon space is a key term in the global climate change discussion. It refers to how much carbon we can still emit into the earth’s atmosphere without setting in motion dangerous climate change.
The questions everyone is grappling with are: how much carbon space do we have – as mankind? And how much carbon space do individual national and people have? The first question is one of science, the second of politics.
Following the 2009 Climate Summit in Copenhagen, almost all countries (including India, China, Japan, the US and the European countries) have agreed that the global climate should not warm by more than 2 degrees Celsius.
In the last couple of years, scientists have tried to decide what that means in terms of emissions. Most greenhouse gases are emitted when fossil fuels, such as coal, oil or gas, are burned.
About half of these emissions are absorbed by the oceans (leading to another serious problem: that of ocean acidification) and the land. The other half goes into our atmosphere. Here, they trap sunlight (read: energy), which heats the planet. This is called the “Greenhouse Gas Effect”.
Greenhouse Gas Effect and Climate Change
The majority of people don’t know what is carbon space. Because the global climate is a very complex ecosystem, we do not know the exact relationship between the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and climate change, but it is pretty clear that the relationship exists. As a result, scientists say that, if we keep carbon emissions to a certain limit, there is a “good chance” of keeping climate change to 2 degrees.
The consensus at the moment is that the total carbon space available to mankind is 1,000 Gigatons of CO2. We began to use this space up in around 1850, when industrialization started. Since then we (mostly the citizen of developed countries) have used up almost 600 Gigatons of CO2 already. This leaves us with a remaining budget of only 400.
At our current rate emissions, we would emit the 1,000th Gigaton in the year 2039. In order to achieve our 2 degree target, we would have to reduce our emissions by 2.5% per year. See this excellent website for a carbon space calculator.
However, at the moment the trend is going in the wrong direction. Emissions are increasing annually by 4-5%. The longer we increase emissions rather than reduce them, the shorter our time horizon will become. We are racing against time – but in the wrong direction. And now you understand what is carbon space?