Carbon budgets: tracking emissions to support global mitigation

November 12, 2021

Countries around the world produce greenhouse gas emission at differing rates. However, all emissions cumulate in the atmosphere and oceans, making climate change a global issue that requires a global solution.

Researchers use sophisticated tools and models to track how effective mitigation activities and policies are for keeping global temperatures below agreed thresholds. The measurements and modelling also help us understand how the climate system is changing and what needs to be done to adapt to the likely impacts of climate change.

The Climate Systems Hub undertakes research to advance the understanding of Australia’s climate and its extremes to support national policies and climate adaptation responses. Our research informs and supports international climate research, helping to shape a clearer picture of the global climate change challenge.

Research to support climate mitigation and adaptation

The Climate Systems Hub supports and provides leadership to the Global Carbon Project (GCP). CSIRO Hub researcher Dr Pep Canadell is GCP Executive Director. Australian research on carbon budgets, including research by the Climate Systems Hub, supports the assessment and production of these global budgets.

As well as contributing data and leadership for the global carbon budget, the Climate Systems Hub is refining and updating the Australian carbon budget to support the design of national climate mitigation and adaptation strategies. Read more about the Hub’s research on land and ocean carbon.

Carbon budgets

Just as we can use budgets to track our personal expenses, we can track greenhouse gas emissions by using carbon budgets. Carbon budgets monitor where carbon emissions come from and where they end up, and how they move between the atmosphere, ocean and land.

“The carbon budget is released annually by an organisation called the Global Carbon Project, which as the name suggests, is an international research initiative, which investigates the entire carbon cycle, including emissions from both human and natural sources,” said IPCC author, CSIRO and Climate Systems Hub scientist Dr Pep Canadell.

The most recent report, released at COP26 in Glasgow, shows that at the current pace of emissions our global carbon budget to limit warming to 1.5°C, some 420 billion tonnes, will be completely consumed in about 10 years. The budget for the 2°C target, 1200 billion tonnes, will be consuming in about 30 years from now.

“There is not much time to change over our energy system left. The most important highlight is that fossil CO2 emissions have almost returned to where we were before pre-pandemic levels after there was a massive 6% decline 2019-2020.

A big part of our research focuses on understanding how carbon emissions are removed by the ocean and the land, and by how much they accumulate in the atmosphere

An important achievement at the negotiations in Glasgow is holding and stopping deforestation by 2030, which is very significant given that emissions from land use change are responsible for about 10% of the total CO2 emissions. The elephant in the room continuous to be fossil fuels but stopping deforestation will be a significant help towards net zero emissions.” said Dr Canadell

The GCP also tracks and assesses the budgets of other greenhouse gases, including methane and nitrous oxide. These greenhouse gas emission budgets provide a transparent and traceable method for assessing global greenhouse gas emissions.

For more information:

Simon Marsland, Hub leader


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