Assessing the size and uncertainty of remaining carbon budgets

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Abstract

The remaining carbon budget (RCB), the net amount of CO2 humans can still emit without exceeding a chosen global warming limit, is often used to evaluate political action against the goals of the Paris Agreement. RCB estimates for 1.5 °C are small, and minor changes in their calculation can therefore result in large relative adjustments. Here we evaluate recent RCB assessments by the IPCC and present more recent data, calculation refinements and robustness checks that increase confidence in them. We conclude that the RCB for a 50% chance of keeping warming to 1.5 °C is around 250 GtCO2 as of January 2023, equal to around six years of current CO2 emissions. For a 50% chance of 2 °C the RCB is around 1,200 GtCO2. Key uncertainties affecting RCB estimates are the contribution of non-CO2 emissions, which depends on socioeconomic projections as much as on geophysical uncertainty, and potential warming after net zero CO2.

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Lamboll, R. D., Nicholls, Z. R. J., Smith, C. J., Kikstra, J. S., Byers, E., & Rogelj, J. (2023). Assessing the size and uncertainty of remaining carbon budgets. Nature Climate Change, 13(12), 1360–1367. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41558-023-01848-5

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