The world has burned most of its carbon budget.

Graph of the Day: The world’s carbon budget made simple

The world has burned most of its carbon budget. This graph of the day explains what we have consumed, what’s left, and what it means.


Today’s Graph of the Day comes from the appropriately named Information is Beautiful website, and gives a different, and quite clear, interpretation of the global carbon budget – the amount of greenhouse emissions that we can burn to meet various climate change scenarios.

It’s an issue that has become a growing source of angst for investors looking to the long term, as underlined in our story about HSBC’s analysis of Unburnable Carbon, a theme that has since been picked up by ratings agency S&P. And, of course, it is a source of great angst to the fossil fuel companies that would like to burn all their reserves, and whose stock valuations have been predicated on them doing exactly that, as we noted in this story, Fossil fuels put on notice – the party is about to end.

This graph is so clear it really needs no explanation. But here goes anyway: The world burned more than 1,000 gigatonnes of Co2 equivalent from 1850 to 2000, and another 380GT/Co2-e in the next decade. That leaves us with just 500GT to burn if we are to meet our “agreed target” of limiting global warming to 2C. Trouble is, there is nearly 745GT of proven reserves of fossil fuels held by the biggest producers, and another 2,500GT held by the others.

They are quite keen on burning it all. Will any of them tighten their belt? To borrow a phrase: “It’s not that I’m anti-fossil fuels, I’m just pro-Maths.”

If you have trouble viewing the entire graph, we suggest you click on it so it appears in all its glory in a new window.

This, though, is only part of the original graph. The authors have also gone through the range of impacts that could occur, depending on how well we keep to the budget. You can click here to see it all.

carbon budget

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  1. Ron Horgan 8 years ago

    This beautiful information is the key to our survival.

    It should be everywhere so that the people who continue to drive our beautiful planet to destruction can never say
    ” We were never told”

    The problem demands a fully mobilized response.

    We can do it if we try.

  2. Graham Palmer 8 years ago

    There needs to be an opposing view from the wider community to the drill baby drill approach of the fossil fuel companies. They are locked in to their mindset not realising or perhaps even caring for the consequences. Their focus is purely on today’s share price and how to keep the ball rolling as well as keeping their jobs. Which CEO is going to be first to hang out a shingle to say that the party’s over? Mysteriously they have not shown any inclination about their future prospects as companies in a world dominated by renewable energy.

  3. patb2009 7 years ago

    with the rapid decline in the costs of renewables, we could launch a 10 year initiative and get the bulk of this offline. The presence of grid parity and the use of renewable ammonia, renewable methane and improved storage and we could break even.

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