A carbon budget is a concept within climate science and policy that represents the total amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions that can be released into the atmosphere while still keeping global warming below a specific temperature target. These can be set at both a global and regional level.
In essence, a carbon budget is like a finite allowance for carbon emissions. It is based on the understanding that there is a limited amount of greenhouse gasses that the Earth's atmosphere can absorb without causing catastrophic climate change. If this budget is exceeded, it becomes increasingly difficult to prevent the worst effects of global warming, such as:
Carbon budgets can be both global and specific to certain countries or regions. The global budget sets a collective limit to achieve global climate targets, while national or regional budgets provide a framework for individual entities to take responsibility for their emissions in accordance with their particular circumstances.
The Paris Agreement, a global climate accord adopted in 2015, explicitly recognizes the importance of carbon budgets in the fight against climate change. It calls on countries to take actions to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius and to pursue efforts to limit it to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
This target is typically expressed as a global temperature increase relative to pre-industrial levels, such as the commonly mentioned goal of limiting global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, with efforts to limit it to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
The sixth Carbon Budget refers to the iteration of the Carbon Budget in the UK that was announced in April 2021, and enshrined in law in June 2021. The intention of this version is to limit the volume of greenhouse gasses emitted over a 5-year period from 2033 to 2037, taking the UK more than three-quarters of the way to reaching net zero by 2050.
The implementation of carbon budgets - aimed at curbing carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions - can have a multifaceted economic impact. While the primary goal of these budgets is to tackle the environmental and societal repercussions of climate change, their execution can lead to a range of economic outcomes, such as:
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Exceeding the carbon budget means that more greenhouse gasses have been released into the atmosphere than the Earth's natural systems can absorb and balance. This means that the primary goal of the Paris Agreement (to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, with an aspirational target of 1.5 degrees Celsius) is unlikely to be met.
Carbon budgets and Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) are two distinct but interconnected components in the broader context of climate change mitigation. CCS plays a crucial role in meeting carbon budgets by actively reducing emissions from sources that may be challenging to eliminate entirely.
It allows for the continued use of fossil fuels, particularly in sectors with few alternative options, while preventing CO2 from contributing to atmospheric warming.