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Understanding Carbon Budget

Why is this concept important for us? No brownie points for guessing that. Hindu carried an article on it, in case you missed it. UNEP report is based on it. IPCC report last year for the first time assessed carbon budget. Now that I’ve convinced you of the topic’s importance, I’ll explain it you in a jiffy.

Can we pump in green house gases recklessly and not expect temperatures to soar? NOT on THIS planet.

How much rise can we endure?

The most widely accepted threshold is a rise of 2 degrees of warming relative to pre-industrial times. There is a limit to which we can emit, and keep the level below 2 degrees. This amount is called the carbon budget.


To put it correctly, carbon budget can be defined as a tolerable quantity of greenhouse gas emissions that can be emitted in totality over a specified time. The budget needs to be in line with what is scientifically required to keep global warming and thus climate change “tolerable”. Carbon budget should not be confused with the use of targets, thresholds or caps to set emissions reduction goals.

It’s possible to calculate a budget like this because carbon dioxide, which is the biggest contributor to global warming, has a predictable relationship with temperature. The warming we get is almost directly proportional to the total amount of carbon dioxide that accumulates in the atmosphere.

UNEP report says, we are in a mess. Second half of the century, we need negative carbon emissions. Use technologies like carbon capture, geo engineering. Sounds good. But primarily, cut down on those emissions.


How do we divide the carbon budget between countries, FAIRLY?

We have a carbon budget for the whole planet because there is one shared atmosphere. If we relax on the emissions coming from one country, another country needs to reduce its emissions to compensate. The remaining carbon budget is a scarce resource, that needs to be divided fairly between countries.

Issues that come into the debate about how to do this

  •  responsibility for historical emissions
  •  state of economic development and the right to be able to
    develop to a certain level
  • size of population and per capita emissions
  •  financial, technological and other capacity to reduce emissions.
  • disparity between developed and developing nations as the latter do not want to compensate for historical emissions and want to emit to continue their economic development.

These issues are the subject of political negotiations between countries.

What is the possible solution then?

The carbon budget is a scarce resource to be divided up between countries, giving each country its own carbon budget which it must not exceed. The country could then give economic sectors each a share of the national carbon budget.

We must transform our economy from one of high emissions intensity, to one that is largely decoupled from carbon. Use renewable sources of power, energy efficient devices, reduce emissions through – efficiency, substitution , sequestration.  We can prioritise services, welfare and macro-economic outcomes alongside emissions objectives and short-term cost minimisation. Mitigation efforts can be aligned with socio-economic strategy.




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  • yo man 😛

  • K_Bisoyee

    awesome man……….

  • Faiz Rehman

    Team ForumIAS, please write article on How to prepare for Indian Forest Service.

    There is no guidance for IFS on forum either.

    Love from Bangalore,