When we wrote the fossil fuel divestment brief for the University of Toronto, we thought that humans could “pour roughly 565 more gigatons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere by midcentury and still have some reasonable hope of staying below two degrees”.
If we’re aiming instead to stay below the 1.5 ˚C limit aspired to in the Paris Agreement, that falls to 353 gigatons more CO2, a figure that means “we’ll need to close all of the coal mines and some of the oil and gas fields we’re currently operating long before they’re exhausted”.
In a way, this makes the politics of climate change simple. Any new project that aims to develop new fossil fuel extraction capacity is either going to need to be abandoned prematurely as part of a massive global effort to curb climate change, or it will be another nail in our coffin as we soar far beyond the 1.5 ˚C and 2 ˚C limit.
Of course, this also makes the politics very difficult. People have a huge sense of entitlement when it comes to both exploiting resources in their jurisdiction and in terms of using fossil fuels with no consideration of the impact on others. The less adjustment time which can be offered to fossil fuel industries, and the more operating facilities that will need to be closed down to avoid catastrophic climate change, the harder it becomes for decision makers to act with sufficient boldness.