Threshold, budget and deadline: beyond the discourse of climate scarcity and control

Shinichiro Asayama

Information of Paper

Threshold, budget and deadline: beyond the discourse of climate scarcity and control

Author: Shinichiro Asayama
Year: 2021
Journal : Climatic Change, volume 167, Article number: 33


Temperature threshold; Carbon budget; Climate deadline; Scarcity; Post-politics; Emancipation


Since its inception, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has always been at the centre of the global climate debate. Its authoritative reports provide cultural resources for public understanding on the challenge of climate change. While the IPCC maintains its perception as a policy-neutral adviser, the IPCC in practice acts as a powerful discursive agent that guides policy debates in a certain direction by enacting influential scientific concepts.

These concepts include three prominent metaphors—temperature threshold, carbon budget and climate deadline—that have been widely circulated across science, policy and advocacy. Three metaphors differ on ways in which the risk of climate change is expressed in terms of space and time. But they all constitute the discourse of climate scarcity—the cognitive view of that we have (too) little space and time to stay below a physical limit for avoiding dangerous climate change.

This discursive construction of physical scarcity on climate change has significant political and psychological implications. Politically, the scarcity discourse has the risk of increasing a post-political tendency towards managerial control of the global climate (‘scarcity of politics’). Psychologically, however, scarcity has a greater risk of generating a ‘scarcity mindset’ that inhibits our cognitive capacity to imagine human life beyond managing physical scarcity. Under a narrow mindset of scarcity, the future is closed down to the ‘point of no return’ that, if crossed, is destined to be the end.

To go beyond the scarcity discourse, a new discourse of emancipation has to be fostered. Climate change can be reframed not as a common single destination but as a predicament for actively reimagining human life. Such a narrative can expand our imaginative capacity and animate political action while embracing social losses.