Is climate change out of our hands?
Germany's climate advisor and respected physicist Hans Joachim Schellnhuber has revealed that he believes humanity can only afford to emit a further 750 billion tonnes of CO2 between now and 2050. In an interview with German magazine Der Spiegel last week, Schellnhuber gave a bleak but simplistic view on how much longer we can continue emitting harmful GHGs before climate change will become irreversible.
He estimates that in order for humanity to achieve a two-in-three chance of keeping temperature increases below 2 degrees, we can emit no more than 750 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide in the next 40 or so years. Spread across today's population of around 6.7 billion people, 750 billion tonnes translates to about 110 tonnes per person in the timescale Schellnhube has given.
With European countries alone currently emitting almost 11 tonnes of CO2 per person per year, this number seems significantly smaller. Figures suggest that this number would increase if we counted the embedded emissions in goods we buy from China and elsewhere.
The 110 tonnes per person figure does not take into consideration the likely 40 percent increase in world population by 2050. This would drastically reduce the figure to just 85 tonnes. It also omits consideration for the fact that the developed world has been responsible for more than 80 percent of the increase in CO2 in the last 100 years. Schellnhuber points out that if we allocated emissions rights in inverse proportion to historical CO2 output the developed countries would already be 'carbon insolvent'.
Schellnhuber concludes that the wealthiest one sixth of the world should pay $100 a year per person to help reduce the future emissions of low income countries. In effect, wealthier populations would be paying poor states to hold their cumulative emissions per head below 110 tonnes so that we can surpass our personal allowance.
The imminent UN summit on climate change in Copenhagen in December is likely to hit problems as the developing world has expressed an unwillingness to fulfil international carbon emission reduction requirements. They feel dissatisfied with the efforts of the developed world to cut their own emissions, considering it is these countries that have contributed the most to global warming. If we are get anywhere close to Schellnhuber's goal of emitting no more than 750 billion tonnes of CO2 between now and 2050, international cooperation is essential.
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