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Wall Street Versus Human Survival: The "Profound Contradiction" Between Science and Markets on the Road to 10F Warming

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Earlier this month, Nicholas Stern - respected U.K. economist and author of the famed Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change - cast a spotlight on what he calls a "profound contradiction at the heart of climate change policy."

On one side, the world's governments have pledged to hold temperature rise to 2 degrees C (3.6 degrees F). To have even a 50/50 shot at meeting that target, humanity has a "carbon budget" of about 1,400 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide between now and 2050. The more we exceed that budget, the more the 2 degrees target slips out of reach. Here's the thing, though: The world's proven fossil fuel reserves, if burned, would create about 2.8 trillion tonnes of CO2, double that carbon budget. If countries are serious about 2 degrees, they must be planning to leave a lot of fossil fuels in the ground. Right?

On the other side, however, the world's top fossil fuel companies are valued at some $7.42 trillion (including the top 100 listed coal companies and the top 100 listed oil and gas companies). They are valued at this level because of proven fossil fuel reserves to which they have access. In other words, their valuation carries the implicit assumption that they will burn the fossil fuels available to them.

Markets are assuming that fossil fuel companies will burn the fossil fuels that the world's governments have, at least implicitly, said they cannot burn. That's the "profound contradiction." So what are markets thinking?


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