Pioneer in zero carbon transport speaks out on un-burnable carbon

The pink cube is the actual volume of carbon dioxide gas we can emit and still have a chance of keeping global warming below 2 °C. It is 81 km high (51 miles). The other volumes are the emissions from the proven reserves of fossil fuels.

(The value for the 'remaining budget' adopts a >66% probability and accounts for non-CO2forcings. The total budget is 2,900 GtCO2 and the amount emitted by 2011 was 1,890 GtCO2leaving 1,010 GtCO2 See: IPCC, Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis - Summary for Policymakers, p 25. See also Carbon Tracker's Q&A about carbon budgets)

I am delighted that the Carbon Visuals team has invited me to write a few words on the theme of ‘un-burnable carbon’. As a long-time advocate of zero-carbon transport methods I feel privileged to comment on a subject which I have to admit was unknown to me until earlier in the year.

Some years ago a global transport company offered to deliver my gifts for free in their planes, trucks and vans. A kind offer but one that I declined as I am by nature a traditionalist. Besides which I am inordinately fond of my reindeer.

I knew nothing then about the growing risk of carbon emissions in the atmosphere. None of us did. But now we do. Global Energy Outlook have calculated the amount of carbon dioxide that would be put in the atmosphere if humans used up the ‘proven reserves’ of fossil fuels and Carbon Tracker have worked out how much of that is already on the books of fossil fuel companies.

It seems that if all the coal, oil and gas in the ground was burnt the carbon emissions produced would be nearly three times the amount scientists calculate we have left in the ‘carbon budget’. That’s the amount humans can emit and still have a chance of global average temperature being kept below 2 °C. In other words it’s un-burnable if we want to maintain a planet that can support us.

On a personal note I am increasingly worried that my own home will be ice and snow free unless we phase out the burning of fossil fuels. And the reindeer are looking decidedly glum about all this too.

So please take this matter seriously. I’ll keep an eye on those ice-caps if you can all keep working on visualising your emissions reductions and de-carbonising your businesses and economies.

Have a merry Christmas.

Santa Claus