May 10 (UPI) -- How much more fossil fuel can be extracted and burned by the globe's biggest producers without pushing global warming across the threshold of 2 degrees Celsius?
Researchers at the University of Queensland have developed a new model, the first of its kind, to track extraction rates and how they impact the ability of major fossil fuel producers to meet global emission reduction targets.
Though there is still much scientists don't understand about climate change, researchers have confirmed a safe limit to greenhouse gas concentration in Earth's atmosphere. Scientists have also established a carbon budget, the amount of carbon that can be burned without exceeding the greenhouse gas limit and pushing global warming beyond the 2 degree threshold.
But how can the remaining budget be allocated across fossil fuel producers? To help make the obligations of major producers more transparent, Queensland researchers established fossil fuel budgets for each producers.
The model set 40-year budgets for the world's 20 largest producers. Each budget is allocated for the years 2011 through 2050 and is based on fossil fuel reserves and production rates recorded in 2010.
As revealed in a new a paper describing the model, published this week in the journal Nature Climate Change, different methods for divvying up the global carbon budget yield different "winners and losers."
Despite the problem of winners and losers, researchers argue assigning individual budgets is essential to bringing corporate reduction targets in line with the targets established by climate scientists.
"One of the challenges is that the current measures of corporate sustainability don't necessarily map to science-based targets," researcher Jacquelyn Humphrey said in a news release.
Previous research has provided the path forward for curbing global warming: cuts in carbon emissions and adoption of sustainability energy technologies.
By scaling down global sustainability indicators, policy makers may be able to do a better job of holding major fossil fuels accountable.
"Future research could refine the [burnable fossil fuel allowance] to account for equity, cost-effectiveness and emissions intensity," researchers wrote in their paper.