News Treehugger Voices Time Is as Important as Tech When Fighting Climate Change Jargon watch: time value of money. By Lloyd Alter Lloyd Alter Facebook Twitter Design Editor University of Toronto Lloyd Alter is Design Editor for Treehugger and teaches Sustainable Design at Ryerson University in Toronto. Learn about our editorial process Published May 12, 2022 09:29AM EDT Fact checked by Katherine Martinko Fact checked by Katherine Martinko Twitter University of Toronto Katherine Martinko is an expert in sustainable living. She holds a degree in English Literature and History from the University of Toronto. Learn about our fact checking process American actor Harold Lloyd knew the importance of time. Evening Standard / Getty Images Share Twitter Pinterest Email News Environment Business & Policy Science Animals Home & Design Current Events Treehugger Voices News Archive The term "time value of carbon" is not used a great deal, but it is critical to understanding the concepts of embodied or upfront carbon emissions that we bang on about here at Treehugger. That's why a tweet from climate scientist Jonathan Foley, who is the executive director of Project Drawdown, caught my eye: As we have noted before in "Every Ounce of CO2 Emissions Adds to Global Warming," emissions are cumulative. This is why upfront carbon emissions are so important—they are happening now and bash up against the ceiling of the carbon budget which is getting smaller every day. And we have to stop thinking about this just in terms of buildings; it's in everything we make and use. Jonathan Foley We will need to do everything we can to cut emissions in half during this decade. That means no more waiting. No more delays. Not even well-intended ones, including waiting for better technologies that can help reduce emissions a little better. IPCC The term “time value of carbon” is not often used. It shows up in the title of an article by embodied carbon pioneer Larry Strain but he never mentions the term itself again, explaining: "When we evaluate emission reduction strategies, there are two things to keep in mind: the amount of reduction, and when it happens. Because emissions are cumulative and because we have a limited amount of time to reduce them, carbon reductions now have more value than carbon reductions in the future. The next couple of decades are critical." Accounting and investment firms are using it, probably because it reminds them of the time value of money (TVM). Investment firm Generation does a good job of explaining it: "The Time Value of Carbon (TVC) is the concept that greenhouse gas emissions cut today are worth more than cuts promised in the future, due to the escalating risks associated with the pace and extent of climate action...The Time Value of Carbon arises from the ruthless maths of climate science. We need to think in terms of carbon stocks, as well as flows, because carbon dioxide (CO2) continues to warm the planet for many decades after it is released. Globally, we emitted around 40 billion tonnes of CO2 in 2020 despite the economic impact of the pandemic. At this rate, we will exceed the carbon budget for 1.5 degrees of warming by 2030." Foley points to an article he wrote in early 2021 with another twist: To stop climate change, time is as important as tech. He explains the principle of the carbon budget and what he calls the carbon law, which demands we cut emissions in half in this decade. In response to those who believe that tech will save us, he notes, "We have to start with tools on hand, and not wait for new ones that may (or may not) appear in the future." "Time is the most crucial parameter here, not whether we have the best possible tools. We have already squandered decades debating and denying climate change—a form of 'predatory delay' that benefitted big polluters. But we’ve wasted all the time we can, and we cannot delay any longer. We will need to do everything we can to cut emissions in half during this decade. That means no more waiting. No more delays. Not even well-intended ones, including waiting for better technologies that can help reduce emissions a little better. We have to get started today and fold in any new tools that become available as we go along." Foley concludes: "Time is as important as tech." Strain writes in a report, "When you save matters, what you build matters, what you don’t build matters more." I have noted many times that this isn't just about buildings, it's about everything from cars and computers to containers full of stuff we don't need. When you look at the world through the lens of embodied carbon, everything changes. The same could be said about TVC: It changes the way you think about things. Here we have investment advisors, accountants, climate scientists, and architects all talking about the time value of carbon—the "now" carbon being added to that big ledger in the sky, all pointing out that emissions cut today are worth more than emissions cuts in the future. As Foley says, time is the crucial parameter here and we are quickly running out of it. View Article Sources Strain, Larry. "Time Value of Carbon." Preston, F. and Jain, P. "The Time Value of Carbon." Generation. Foley, Dr. Jonathan. "To Stop Climate Change, Time Is as Important as Tech." Global Eco Guy, 20 Feb. 2021.