Did you know? The fossil-fuel burning power plants, factories, vehicles, and buildings that we've already built will, if operated normally over their full lifetimes, almost certainly warm the Earth more than the Paris Agreement climate target of 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit)? A new study concludes that the implications are striking: To limit warming to 1.5°C, not only should no new fossil-fuel-using infrastructure be built ever again, some existing power plants need to shut down early—and yet today many new power plants are under construction or planned. A new coal plant built today will emit millions of tons of CO2 every year throughout its 40-year lifespan. A new car that emits four tons of CO2 a year also has a lifetime carbon commitment of 60 tons based on a 15-year lifespan.
Although some of that CO2 gets soaked up by forests and oceans, most will remain in the atmosphere, trapping heat, for hundreds of years—unless we deploy technologies to suck it back out again. Adding up all those lifetime emissions from existing infrastructure, the total carbon commitment is also estimated at about 658 billion metric tons of CO2. That’s 78 billion tons above the maximum the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says can be emitted to have a better than 50 percent chance of stabilizing temperatures at 1.5°C of warming.
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