Imperial College London

Calculator shows planned emissions cuts can't prevent dangerous global warming


Preview of the calculator

The FT Climate Calculator

A new tool that assesses countries' promises on cutting greenhouse gas emissions ahead of a major meeting in Paris shows stronger action is needed.

In December, delegates from around the world will meet at the 21st annual Conference of Parties (COP21) in Paris. This year’s meeting is geared towards forming a legally binding agreement on limiting climate change, the first of its kind since the 1997 Kyoto Protocol.

It is imperative the Paris agreement includes a system requiring countries to drastically ramp up emissions cuts beyond their current promises.

– Dr Jeremy Woods

In the run-up to the talks, countries have been submitting their plans to curb greenhouse gas emissions after 2020. Using this data, researchers from Imperial College London and collaborators at the international network Climate-KIC, have created a Climate Calculator to assess just how effective the changes will be.

In partnership with the Financial Times, the Calculator has been turned into an interactive graphic with funding from the Grantham Institute at Imperial.

Dangerous and irreversible

Their calculations predict that even with the proposed cuts, global warming could still reach up to four degrees Celsius (4°C) warming by 2100, overshooting the 2°C warming threshold that experts have agreed could prevent climate change from becoming ‘dangerous and irreversible’.

The creators of the calculator say that while the cuts are certainly a significant step forward – a ‘business as usual’ scenario where countries do nothing to limit their emissions would likely cause a global temperature rise up to 6°C or more – sharper and more sustained action is needed.

“Average global temperatures are still likely to rise by up to 4°C in 2100, compared to 6°C without any action,” said Dr Jeremy Woods, from Imperial’s Centre for Environmental Policy and a collaborator on the Calculator. “So it is imperative the Paris agreement includes a system requiring countries to drastically ramp up emissions cuts beyond their current promises.”

Setting goals

The interactive version of the FT Climate Calculator allows users to pick apart the contributions of different regions. The plans of each of the top eight emitters of greenhouse gases – China, USA, the EU, India, Russia, Brazil, Japan, Canada and Australia, who released two thirds of global greenhouse gases in 2010 – can be seen through their short- medium- and long-term projections. Users can also change the plans to see what level of action would be needed to reach the 2°C warming goal.

Although projections of emissions can be tricky to pin down, and not all countries’ plans are easy to interpret, Dr Rajiv Chaturvedi of the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore, a collaborator on the Calculator’s data, said that there are still some clear results.

“What is clear from our analysis is no country is doing enough but some countries are doing far less than they are capable of doing,” he said.

For example, Russia has tabled plans to cut emissions by 30 percent of 1990 levels by 2030. However, its emissions in 2030 will be similar to those of 2010. The researchers suggest that to make a meaningful contribution to limiting climate change, Russia needs to cut its emissions by up to 40 percent of 2010 levels.

Deeper cuts, smarter choices

Countries also need more long-term plans beyond 2030, which is as far as many promises extend. The FT Climate Calculator shows that continuing on with similar levels of planned cuts beyond 2030 will not be enough for most countries; deeper cuts are needed that can be sustained until 2100.

“Our analysis clearly highlights that we can meet our 2°C  target while maintaining good lifestyles and a prosperous economy – but the FT Climate Calculator tells us that to be successful the world needs to act now and transform the technologies, knowledge base and fuels we use and make smarter use of our land,” said Dr Woods.

“Declarations ahead of COP21 in Paris are an important first step along the wider review path. We hope that clarity of the task ahead will enable negotiators at COP21 to ensure a firm process is put in place to increase the ambition of country pledges beyond 2020.”

Test out the FT Climate Calculator for yourself.


Hayley Dunning

Hayley Dunning
Communications Division

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