Professor Schellnhuber of the Potsdam Institute talks pre industrial carbon levels for safe climate

This Week Beyond Zero’s Matthew Wright and Scott Bilby talk to Hans Joachim Schellnhuber about the Poznam talks, his work at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) since its foundation in 1992 and Australia’s lacklustre response to the climate issue. He is vice chair of the German Advisory Council on Global Change and served as Chief Government Advisor on Climate and Related Issues by the German Federal Government for the G8 and EU presidencies in 2007.

Schellnhuber states that we need to:

– go to pre-industrial levels of CO2 emissions (less than 280ppm) to save the planet (current CO2 concentrations are about 390ppm).
– find ways to come to negative emissions and extract CO2 from the atmosphere.
– avoid temperature rises of more than 2 degrees to avoid dangerous climate change.

What are the steps?

– global emissions to be reduced to 220-225ppm.
– reduce emissions by at least 50% globally by 2050 (this means about a 95% reduction for nations like Australia).
– complete phase out of CO2 emission by end of century.
– negative CO2 emissions in second half of the century ie. large scale carbon extraction.


Professor Schellnhuber acknowledged that carbon debt and burden sharing of emission reductions was an issue, but a complex one. A nation such as Belgium, for example, was industrialised early and has arguably a large carbon debt but it has little land and no forests and the industrialising carbon-emitting population of the 19th century were not aware of the consequences of what they were doing. He believes the right approach to stabilise in the future is equal per capita emissions.

Schellnhuber was positive about the election of Obama and opportunities for a global network of carbon trading systems – both positive and negative carbon emissions ie. companies buying a right to emit and paying for clean-ups.

Asked about Al Gore's We Can Solve It campaign, Schellnhuber thought its direction good but that it was unrealistic.

Shellnhuber thinks Australia has vast potential in renewable energy and CO2 reduction but that this government has not proved to be vastly different from the previous.