440 months: that’s how long we have to avoid a climate crisis and achieve zero emissions

The Climate Commission’s report released today is a masterful synthesis of the most recent science, offering clear evidence of both climate change and the observed impacts.

However, the report is really about the choices we make and the future we shape as a consequence. I’ll provide some more commentary this week as I’m still reading the report. Having said that, it is a very accessible document and far more approachable than any IPCC report.

There are two key passages from the executive summary I wanted to highlight. These showcase the clear choices we must make:

Most nations of the world, including Australia, have agreed that the risks of a changing climate beyond 2°C are unacceptably high. The temperature rise is already approaching 1°C above preindustrial, nearly halfway to the 2°C limit. 

The best chance for staying below the 2°C limit requires global emissions to begin declining as soon as possible and by 2020 at the latest. Emissions need to be reduced to nearly zero by 2050. 

Stabilising the climate within the 2°C limit remains possible provided that we intensify our efforts this decade and beyond.

And that:

From today until 2050 we can emit no more than 600 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide to have a good chance of staying within the 2°C limit.

Based on estimates by the International Energy Agency, emissions from using all the world’s fossil fuel reserves would be around five times this budget. Burning all fossil fuel reserves would lead to unprecendented changes in climate so severe that they will challenge the existence of our society as we know it today.  

It is clear that most fossil fuels must be left in the ground and cannot be burned.

Between now and 2050, the world has a choice: to either decarbonise or face risks that will challenge the existence of our civilisation. The reserves of coal and oil must be kept in the ground.

If we fail, then the journey to 2°C and beyond will not be smooth.

It would more than likely involve a series of climate shocks as various tipping points are induced, the product of amplified feed-backs  – which in turn would also generate further changes to the climate.

The report notes the risk of tipping points:

An ice-covered Arctic Ocean is a large white surface that reflects sunlight. The loss of summer Arctic sea ice uncovers more dark ocean water that, in turn, absorbs more sunlight. This is another example of an amplifying feedback that drives further warming in the northern high latitudes, which in turn increase the rate of loss of sea ice. The loss of Arctic sea ice is happening so rapidly that it is often considered to be a fast feedback. 

As I said, there are choices to be made.

But how much time do we have to achieve zero emissions?

I did the maths.

We have 37 years to do this – 440 months (give or take).

That’s well within the lifetime of most people alive on the planet today.

Indeed, anyone under the age of 50 will share the journey to a hotter, less hospitable and different world should we fail to act.

If you’re under the age of 50, or have children and grandchildren then it is both yours and their best interest to act. It is not a problem for the distant future, the challenge is already here.

If you’re older, then you have the choice to be “an honorable ancestor“.

It is about choices: the choices you make, and the choices we can help society make.


They CC have also produced some good graphics. I’d recommend using these if you have a blog/site and sharing them via social media.

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46 thoughts on “440 months: that’s how long we have to avoid a climate crisis and achieve zero emissions

  1. john byatt says:

    We need to reduce emissions by 3% per year, when we have been growing emissions by 3% per year,

    It may already be too late for keeping to 2DegC


    • Anders Christensen says:

      Unfortunately, in Copernius’ days it was merely a question of religion and prestige, with few, if any, practical implications.

      Today, climate change is also a question of money (from fossile fuel extraction) and painful changes of habits for all of us. Thus, Coperinicus experience is probably not so relevant.

      • zoot says:

        Why does everybody assume the changes of habit have to be painful?
        To avoid overwhelming pain in the future we have to reduce our dependence on carbon based fuels. We don’t have to live without electricity.
        Had we started earlier the change would have been barely noticeable.

        • Steve says:

          Some fossil fuel producers consider that it is in their own interest to encourage the idea that changes of habit have to be painful.
          We would need to make changes that would result in much of the reserves of fossil fuel that the own ‘rights’ to should stay in the ground.
          However even these people, or their descendants, will also be affected by what will happen to the world if all accessible fossil fuels are burnt.

        • Watching the Deniers says:

          Zoot, this is very much the narrative of the sceptic/denier movement: to posit any change as negative or going backwards.

        • Mark says:

          On the AM programme:
          “LESLEY HUGHES:[climate commissioner] … We simply have to leave about 80 per cent of the world’s fossil fuel reserves in the ground. We cannot afford to burn them and still have a stable and safe climate.”

          Coal is a $50bill/yr industry for Australia. About 4% of GDP.

          I suspect there might be some pain.

  2. I do not think this reduction target need be that painful, accepting smaller more fuel efficient vehicles together with expanding biofuels and hybrid power sources. There are some recent break throughs in biofuels produced from algea that do not result in the food or fuel dilema.

    Our expectations of comfortable temperatures at home, work and while shopping achieved through heating and cooling are perhaps self indulgent. Maybe if we accepted to dress more appropriately for the daily temperatures rather than artificially changing it to suit ourselves would be more practical. Designing buildings to be more temperature stable and require less energy to be made acceptable to us would also be a big help.

    All this technology currently exists, in many instances it is complacancy or ignorance that prevents its adoption.

  3. john byatt says:

    The Guardian

    If you dismantle all the mitigation and then censor the scientific findings, it all goes away.

    updated its 2011 The Critical Decade study to analyse the latest findings on climate change and Australia’s response to it.

    The report is likely to be the Climate Commission’s last major contribution if, as expected, the Coalition wins power at the 14 September election. Opposition leader Tony Abbott has signalled that he will scrap the commission , along with the carbon price, if he becomes prime minister.

    The commission’s updated analysis states that evidence of a “rapidly changing climate has continued to strengthen over the last two years”, including, importantly, the link between climate change and extreme weather events.

    “It is clear that the climate system has already shifted, changing conditions for all weather,” says the study. “While extreme weather events have always occurred naturally, the global climate system is hotter and wetter than it was 50 years ago. This has loaded the dice toward more frequent and forceful extreme weather events.”

  4. john byatt says:

    If you think that climate change should be part of the 2013 election debate then please consider,

    and no I am not a member of the Greens



  5. Mark says:

    440 months..that’s a relief.
    We used to be told (still are in some circles) that we only had 50 months. Strangely the same people saying 50 months also say 100 months. I recall the future king decreeing that we only had 100 months some time ago so I guess we’re down in the 80’s by now.
    Others said 100 months ages ago and are no down to 42months which makes some sense since 42 is indeed the answer to everything.

    So 440 months seems like an absolute luxury by comparison.

    Its interesting how these numbers are always so round – 50 months, 100 months, 2050. Its never 107.3 months or 2054. The word truly is a remarkable place!

    Just like the 2c rise that we have to avoid – not 1.97 or 2.34. Nup exactly two!
    I wonder where that number came from? According to Phil Jones it was “plucked out of thin air. “. Not only don’t we know how it was calculated, we (or he) don’t even know what it means:

    “The 2 deg C limit is talked about by a lot within Europe. It is never defined though what it means. Is it 2 deg C for the globe or for Europe? Also when is/was the base against which the 2 deg C is calculated from? I know you don’t know the answer, but I don’t either! I think it is plucked out of thin air. I think it is too high as well. If it is 2 deg C globally, this could be more in Europe – especially the northern part. A better limit might be maintaining some summer Arctic sea ice!”

    Still I wouldn’t worry folks. These prognostications are all based on models which are increasingly being shown to be, shall we say, questionable.


    I wonder how many months it’ll take to get models that reflect the real world.

  6. Mark says:

    While we’re making predictions: I think the Climate Commission is going to suffer a cataclysmic disaster within the next 12 months.

    • Steve says:

      Your prediction may well turn out to be correct.
      Did you read my link my previous comment about how the dangerous 2 degree limit was foisted on us?

      • Mark says:

        Yes I did read the link. I’ve always been a big fan of Nordhaus.

        • BBD says:

          Mystifyingly, Mark says:

          I’ve always been a big fan of Nordhaus.

          I cannot imagine why, since Nordhaus absolutely disagrees with inactivist deniers like you:

          The piece completely misrepresented my work. My work has long taken the view that policies to slow global warming would have net economic benefits, in the trillion of dollars of present value. This is true going back to work in the early 1990s (MIT Press, Yale Press, Science, PNAS, among others). I have advocated a carbon tax for many years as the best way to attack the issue. I can only assume they either completely ignorant of the economics on the issue or are willfully misstating my findings.

          Do read the whole Revkin piece. It is entitled: Scientists Challenging Climate Science Appear to Flunk Climate Economics.

        • BBD says:

          Nordhaus’ full response to the misrepresentation of his work in a letter to the WSJ signed by sixteen contrarians is here. As you are a fan of Nordhaus, you should read it all.

        • Before Murdoch I read the WSJ pretty faithfully. Now that’s turned blatantly ideological I read the Financial Times instead. Deliberately twisting words is a Rupert hallmark.

        • Mark says:

          Nordhaus was among the first, maybe the first, to actually apply economic method to the question of climate change. Instead of the standard approach of demanding massive disruption to national and world economies for avoid phantasmagorical threats, he used clear thinking to approach the question.

          Over the years his approach and developing work have lead to the idea that “The most efficient strategy for slowing or preventing climate change is to impose a universal and internationally harmonized carbon tax levied on the carbon content of fossil fuels.” He has also opined that the price ought to be approx $US30/tonne rising over time.

          But the critical thing here is “universal and internationally harmonized”. Kyoto wasn’t that. Kyoto2 isn’t that. It needs to be international because without that, the effort either becomes a waste of effort or the prices to achieve anything get too high eg I seem to remember back in the late 90’s he calculated the required tax to be $18/tonne if the US signed up but $45(?) if they didn’t.

          I have no problem with a universal CO2 price. I have always been in favour of a so-called ‘no regrets’ policy whereby we do things that we wouldn’t regret if/when we find out AGW is a crock. Howard, Abbott and the Libs have no problem with a universal price. The problem with our piece of lunacy is that it was one-out, penalising our industry without the slightest benefit to Gaia.

          On the other hand, we who live in the real world understand that the chances of getting a “universal and internationally harmonized ” scheme are very very slight reflecting the fact that, while most governments pay lip service to the scare, they aren’t prepared to threaten their own economy of the alter of Gaia.

        • “we who live in the real world”

          is code for

          “those who believe the Canute of economics can withstand the tide of physics”

        • BBD says:

          Mark, “the big fan of Nordhaus” gets caught out b*s-ing. Again.

          Do you actually read the links? I think not.

        • BBD says:

          Keywords from above:

          phantasmagorical threats

          AGW is a crock




          the real world

          the scare

          alter of Gaia

          Nordhaus has made his views on denialist cranks very plain (do please read both links). You may be a “big fan” but he would regard you are just another denier.

          Your grasp of Nordhaus’s position seems to be on a par with your understanding of physical climatology.

    • john byatt says:

      Will not make any difference to the figures though

    • Watching the Deniers says:

      Killing the messenger is an old tactic: whistle blowers and early truth tellers are always mercioously attacked and mocked. Those that wanted slavery abolished were also told it wouln’t be good for the economy.

      • john byatt says:

        It was only a few months ago that the climate screaming loonies party was claiming that censorship was evil, they will no doubt be cheering on Abbott’s censoring the message

  7. john byatt says:


    Tol’s letter to ERL re the Cook paper has been rejected by the umpire.

    Watts calls on the flying monkeys to fling their crap at the editor ERL


    • I particularly enjoyed “Of course, I suppose that we can’t expect much from an organization that has an admitted document thief on their editorial board” from the buffoon who trumpeted the theft behind CGs 1, 2 and 3 and handled the stolen material, the chutzpah and hypocrisy is breathtaking.

      Watts himself appears to be struggling with the spelling of Tol versus Toll. How drol.

      • john byatt says:

        Whatever happened to the final nail of CG3,

        looks like that FOI dude was a conman who cracked the code and rustled up some denier money for his retirement with a begging letter,

  8. john byatt says:


    crikey reports on what they referred to as the piss and wind fest in front of parliament house MC alan jones , turned out a bit of a flop ( the name comes from a couple of old blokes claiming that it had buggared their urinary habits,

    Meanwhile, Senator Nick Xenophon, who last year co-sponsored the defeated Renewable Energy (Electricity) Amendment (Excessive Noise from Wind Farms) Bill 2012, mysteriously pulled out, ”

    I had sent him an email with a link to the climate sceptics party being a sponser of this drivel
    a week or so ago,

    well done nick

  9. […] 440 months: that’s how long we have to avoid a climate crisis and achieve zero emissions (watchingthedeniers.wordpress.com) […]

  10. […] 2013/06/17: WtD: 440 months: that’s how long we have to avoid a climate crisis and achieve zer… […]

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