The Brakes Project Put the brakes on climate change Tue, 17 Jan 2017 15:53:09 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Brakes Project 32 32 The Emissions Gap and You Tue, 17 Jan 2017 15:53:09 +0000 So the world has finally come together and pinkie sworn not to let climate change get out of hand.  In the Paris Agreement, the nations of the world agreed to take action to limit warming to well-below 2°C, 1.5°C if at all possible.  What scale of action is needed to meet those targets?

We’ll rely primarily on two sources:

– The UNEP Emissions Gap Report, which tallies current and expected national emissions reductions and compares them to the 2 degree and 1.5 degree goals (The Gap), and

Ratchet Success, an analysis by Climate Interactive, which outlines pathways to increase worldwide emission reduction goals in order to bridge The Gap.

The Pathway to 2 degrees

Global greenhouse gas emissions trajectories. Adapted from UNEP Emissions Gap Report 2016.

In 2014, global greenhouse gas emissions were 52.7 Gigatons CO2e. Emissions are currently increasing globally, though the rate has begun to slow.

In order to limit warming to 2 degrees C, by 2030 emission need to have decreased to 42 Gigatons CO2e (39 GT to meet the 1.5 deg target).

As the chart above shows, there is a wide gap between current global emissions reduction commitments and the level of cuts necessary to meet the stated goals of the Paris Agreement.  UNEP estimates a gap in 2030 of 12 Gigatons CO2e for the 2°C goal, and 15 Gigatons CO2e for the 1.5°C goal.


The question that naturally follows is how to apportion responsibility for the still-needed emissions reductions.  Given that current voluntary emissions cuts are not sufficient, how much should each nation increase their ambition?  Answering this question requires finding a just and equitable way to apportion responsibility.  There are several approaches to this, ranging from putting all of the responsibility on the people who historically caused this problem (i.e. the United States), to requiring each nation to contribute equally regardless of current or past emissions.  For an excellent discussion of the common approaches and an in-depth evaluation of the level of commitment of each of the Paris Agreement signatories, visit Paris Equity Check.


Climate Interactive’s Ratchet Success pathway takes a middle approach, with developed countries taking the lead in reducing emissions in the near term, and developing countries ramping up their emissions reductions toward the middle of the century.

What does America’s contribution need to be?

In the Ratchet Success scenario, in order to keep warming below 2 degrees C, the US would need to reduce emissions to 45% below 2005 levels by 2030 (60% for 1.5 deg C), 80% by 2050, and from there down to zero by the end of the century.

US greenhouse gas emissions have been slowly decreasing for a number of years, but the rate is not nearly fast enough to prevent catastrophic warming.  Our current NDC pledge is to reduce emissions by 26% by 2025. This is better, but still only half of the level of ambition that we really need to have.

What does that mean for me?

I’ll be discussing how these emissions reduction goals translate to individual experience/responsibility in later posts (in fact, it’s a major purpose of this blog in general), but for now, how about this for a goal:

Let’s each aim to meet the nation’s responsibility.  

In future posts, I’ll be looking at how far individual action can get us toward the national target, what national/state/local actions will be necessary, and where to focus in order to achieve our personal goals.  But if you’re an American wondering, “what’s my fair share of emissions reduction to stay within 2 degrees?”, the answer is:

50% less by 2030.

Cut your personal carbon footprint in half between now and 2030.  That gives each of us 13 years to find the money/time/will/technology to do just twice as well as we’re doing now. 13 years is enough time to let cars and appliances live out their natural lives. When they do need to be replaced, buy one that’s twice as efficient as the worn out model.

It’s not a silver bullet.  There’s more to the American economy than what can be directly influenced by individual consumers, even if we could get every citizen to participate. But if you’re a person who thinks it’s important to be doing your fair share of the work, this is your fair share.


United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), 2016. The Emissions Gap Report 2016.

Climate Interactive, 2015. Climate Interactive Ratchet Success Pathway: Assumptions and Results.

Paris Equity Check.

United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), 2016.Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks: 1990 – 2014. EPA 430-R-16-002.

]]> 0 Fri, 04 Nov 2016 18:38:58 +0000 “Humanity will look back on November 4, 2016, as the day that countries of the world shut the door on inevitable climate disaster and set off with determination towards a sustainable future. “

– Patricia Espinosa, UNFCCC Executive Secretary and Salaheddine Mezouar, President of COP22 and Minister of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation of the Kingdom of Morocco

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Understanding the Paris Agreement Thu, 03 Nov 2016 13:29:04 +0000 With the Paris Agreement coming into force this Thursday (Nov 4), and a new round of climate talks starting up in Marrakech next week, it seems like a good time for a brief little explainer on what the Paris Agreement is and how it works.

The Paris Agreement sets an official goal of keeping long-term global warming to well-below  2°C, and an ambition to keep warming below 1.5°C.

Each country is required to submit a plan to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. These plans are called Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs or NDCs). Plans must be revised every five years, and each successive revision must be more ambitious than the last.

The parties are to meet every five years to take stock of current commitments and progress toward the 2° goal. The first of these “global stocktakes” is to take place in 2023.

To date, 197 countries*  have signed the agreement, and 92 countries have formally adopted it.

Emissions reductions are voluntary, and are not specifically prescribed by the agreement.  Each nation is given the responsibility to determine what contribution they will make, with the understanding that the contribution will

…reflect its highest possible ambition, reflecting its common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities, in the light of different national circumstances.

This basically requires each country to step up and do the best they possibly can. It’s expected that developed countries and those countries with the highest emissions will take the lead, but that all countries will contribute toward a common goal.

A voluntary agreement such as this can’t penalize countries for failing to live up to their commitments, but rather relies on a “name and shame” strategy where other signatories and third parties use social pressure to encourage compliance.

Those are the basics.  Next up:  What are countries promising, and is it enough? (Spoiler: no)


Here are some good resources if you want to get into more detail:

The official UN website:

Grist has a great post:

If you can get your hands on it, this is a great article: Schleussner, CF, et al. 2016. Science and policy characteristics of the Paris Agreement temperature goal. Nature Climate Change 6, 827–835.

* I’m using the term “countries” for simplicity here.  In reality, one of those “countries” is the European Union, which is obviously not a country, but let’s not get technical where we don’t absolutely have to.

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Put a price on carbon. Wed, 02 Nov 2016 14:52:24 +0000 Try our brand-new carbon tax calculator, the Carbon Tax-inator!

Tired of waiting for the government to establish a carbon tax?  Start charging yourself!

The Carbon Tax-inator allows you to calculate an appropriate carbon tax for six of your most carbon-intensive purchases: electricity, heat, gasoline, air travel, beef, and cheese.  Save up your carbon taxes and use them to purchase offsets or fund energy efficiency improvements.

A mobile version is available through this link. It’s not all that pretty yet, but expect design improvements and native iOS and Android apps coming soon.

Give it a try and post your comments and suggestions below.  Thanks!

Image Designed by Kreativkolors / Freepik

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From the Brakes Coffeehouse to The Brakes Project Thu, 27 Oct 2016 18:17:26 +0000 In the winter of 2014, I, with the help of many friends and supporters, opened The Brakes Coffeehouse on Lark Street in downtown Albany, NY. It was a coffeehouse with a purpose: to serve sustainably-produced, low-carbon food and drink, and to serve as a community hub and meeting place for those concerned about the looming climate crisis.  Sadly, I had to close the coffeehouse after 16 months due to financial difficulties.  I regret the loss of the space — it was warm and inviting, with excellent food and a wonderful community.  But I am very excited that the transition has given me the time and space to start to build this site.  My hope is that The Brakes Project will serve as a resource for anyone concerned about climate change, especially those who want clear, concise information about what is happening and what we as individuals can do about it. I will provide summaries of the latest science, the current state of international agreements, and what it all means. I will also be creating a program to help individuals understand how their actions contribute to the wider global problem, to identify which changes will have the greatest impact on their carbon footprint, and to access the available tools and resources to make these changes.  Watch this space in the coming months as I work to build out the site. – Emily

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