According to a website tracking national CO2 budgets, Canada has blown through its remaining national carbon budget under its international commitment to fight climate change.
The national carbon budget represents the total amount of CO2 that any country can still emit in the future in doing its part in limiting climate change to a given temperature target. As a signatory of the 2015 Paris Agreement, Canada has committed itself to help keep the global average temperature increase well below 2 C and to pursue efforts to limit it to 1.5 C above pre-industrial levels.
The International Panel on Climate Climate (IPCC) has warned of catastrophic effects if the temperature increase exceeds 2 C by 2100. Figures show the world is currently on track to surpass both thresholds above, with the optimistic scenario limiting warming to 1.8 C by 2100.
According to showyourbudgets.org, a website tracking national CO2 budgets, Canada could reach that goal with a probability of 66 per cent if it were to reach net-zero emissions by March 2024. The likelihood of limiting the increase to 1.8 C drops to 50 per cent if Canada achieves net-zero emissions by March 2026. The federal government in June 2021 committed Canada to reach net-zero emissions by 2050.
To use an aviation analogy, Canada has run out of runway to land its plane on the 1.5 C goal and it would take a sharp, almost vertical drop to land on the 1.8 C goal, – an unlikely prospect according to the website. It pegs the odds of Canada reaching net zero-emissions by 2024 at 0.05 per cent and at 0.07 per cent by 2026.
Experts consider 1.5 C a red line in the fight against climate change. “Without increased and urgent mitigation ambition in the coming years, leading to a sharp decline in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, global warming will surpass 1.5 C in the following decades, leading to irreversible loss of the most fragile ecosystems, and crisis after crisis for the most vulnerable people and societies,” a special IPCC report released in 2018 found.
Canada’s fellow G7 countries representing the world’s most advanced economies face somewhat better but no less difficult conditions. The United States ran out of runaway in 2021 for 1.5 C but has more time than Canada to stick to the 1.8 C goal either in 2027 or 2029 – but Americans would have to cut net emissions to zero, a goal that would require a fundamental re-orientation of socio-economic arrangements.
Germany and Japan can reach 1.5 C by 2027 while the United Kingdom and France have until 2036 and 2039, respectively, to reach 1.5 C. Italy has until October 2041.
Among other major countries, China can reach 1.5 C by 2030 while India’s remaining carbon budget gives them until 2079. Russia, meanwhile, has until February 2022 – so days from now – to reach net-zero emissions if it wants to reach the 1.5 C goal.
The world as a whole can reach the 1.5 C goal (with 66 per cent probability) by June 2036, under the best-case scenario.
The site offers itself as a tool with which citizens in individual countries can hold their respective governments accountable by pointing out various scenarios. But the findings require additional context.
The website points out the IPCC does not count CO2 feedback systems in its CO2 budgets. Climate change causes feedback loops that release additional greenhouse gases previously trapped in the ground into the atmosphere, it noted. “If these emissions were included, then the global CO2 budgets for humanity’s use would be smaller, as would the budgets of individual countries.”
The website also noted that apart from the emissions from these feedbacks, it covers all CO2 emissions for which countries bear responsibility – emissions from fossil fuel use and cement production, but also the emissions from land-use change and the emissions from international aviation and shipping.
Overall, Canada accounted for approximately 1.5 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions (not just CO2) but ranks among the highest per capita emitters.
The website is run by a German climate journalist and receives scientific advice from Stefan Rahmstorf, head of Earth System Analysis at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, one of the world’s leading climate research institutions. Rahmstorf was among the lead authors of the IPCC assessment reports.
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