“Are we nearly there yet?”  

By Matthew Pye

I pushed a pram with my fourth child along a quiet suburban street, trying to get him to sleep. A car pulled up ahead of me. It parked outside a house. Inside 30 seconds, just like that, everyone was indoors. 

I couldn’t believe it; it was almost like I observed a Formula One pit-stop. 

Home at last. And yet, being the father of four young children, I knew the question most frequently asked from the back seat:  “Are we nearly there yet?” 

If only we asked that question more often about climate change. 

How close are we to 1.5 and 2°C?

The remaining carbon budget is 135 gigatonnes of CO2 (GtC) for 1.5°C. Last year we emitted an extra 42 GtC. We have about 3.5 years left before we have used up that budget. For 2°C, there is a bigger budget – there are 735 GtC of anthropogenic emissions before we commit ourselves to living on a planet that is 2°C warmer. At current rates that gives us about 17 years. 

These are the emissions in gigatonnes that we released into the atmosphere, going back to the first year of COP, with a clear pattern3

           29 30 32 30 31 31 31 32 33 34 34 36 36 37 37 38 40 40 40 41 41 40 41 41 42 39 41 41 42 

COP1 in 1995                                                ============?                                   COP 28 in 20234

You might have seen more solar panels go up, there might have been more nature documentaries, and spending on green investments. The vocabulary about climate change might have changed gear, green investments are up, more electric cars are on the road, and many people have gone vegan. But the sum of these things is vividly clear. We are not only continually adding more GHG into the atmosphere every year, we are also increasing emissions. 

What is required is an overhaul of entire energy systems and infrastructure. 

A graph showing carbon pricesDescription automatically generated with medium confidence

Who cares? 

One reason why we don’t have much of a clue about the carbon budget is that many people just don’t really care. What difference does a couple of degrees make to their lives? 2°C sounds so small. And wouldn’t an extra 2°C on a chilly spring morning be rather welcome? However, this entirely misses the point.  

Tipping points 

Temperature has to be understood systemically. An extra 1.5°C internal body temperature for a human being is a big deal. It is a fever. It makes you lethargic, glassy-eyed, and ropey. 2°C is really unpleasant. 4°C is a medical emergency (doctors name it “hyperpyrexia”), and without effective treatment in a hospital, you will likely die within 24 hours. 

Indeed, even 2°C fever sustained over a long period of time, leads to the breakdown of human organs. And if we take this as a metaphor for the planet, the truth is approximately the same. 4°C is incompatible with human civilisation as we know it.4 At around 3°C the Amazon Rainforest ecosystem will collapse.5 Indeed, even at 1.5°C we have entered into a minefield of tipping points.6 The failure of one cog in the Earth’s system can lead to a cascading, irreversible collapse.

Environmental illiteracy 

In schools we teach about the danger of extreme weather, the fate of the polar bear, or sea level rise for this or that place. Schools encourage their students to do low-impact, individual actions. But when students leave our gates for the last time, do they understand the existential, systemic threat of 2°C warming? 

If institutions do not address the leading causes of the climate crisis and biodiversity loss, focusing on individual action runs the risk of distracting from the fundamental problems. 


Is it not profoundly weird that we don’t teach everyone about the carbon budget limits and why they are so fundamentally important? In just 3.5 years, some of them will walk out of our school gates into a profoundly destablised world that is 1.5°C warmer. 

How odd is it that so few people know or care how close they are? Why is education and the media so limp about it all? The BBC still talks about 1.5°C as a target without blinking. Have they looked at the data? Do they know how close it is? Even for 2°C, do they understand how rapid the emissions cuts will have to be? 

We have to start asking the question, “Are we nearly there yet?” far more often. 

We have to be annoyingly, petulantly insistent about it. 

Damn it, we even have to be loud and angry about it. 

Footnotes and references:
1 This is at 83% probability. Or in other words, if we want to play Russian Roulette, we get a gun with 8 bullet cylinders and put one bullet in, before spinning and shooting at our head. 
2 These numbers are correct on April 7th 2024. For the annually updated numbers and all the scientific authority that goes with it, visit www.cutxpercent.org. The research scientists who have done all the work to make the science so powerfully clear in these numbers are Michael Wadleigh and Birgit van Munster. 
3 Here is the link to the live data: https://globalwarmingclocks.org/ 
4 Kemp L. et al. Climate Endgame: exploring catastrophic climate change scenarios. Proceedings National Academy of Sciences (2022) Vol. 119 No. 34.
5 Armstrong McKay et al., 2022; Lovejoy and Nobre, 2018 Nobre et al., 2016; Lenton et al., 2008
6 https://global-tipping-points.org/, https://www.science.org/doi/10.1126/science.abn7950

Matthew Pye is the Founder of “The Climate Academy”. 

He is the Head of Philosophy at The European School of Brussels I. He is the author of books such as, “Plato Tackles Climate Change” (2021), “Arendt Tackles Climate Change” (2024) & “The Climate Academy Guidebook” (2023). 

He is frequently a speaker at international events and conferences. 

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