Adding the metric of time to the climate change conversation


Time is the key metric we need to include to make climate change relatable.

We all now know that the global average temperature passing the threshold of 2° above pre-industrial averages is the point where really bad things start to happen… and it becomes much more difficult to slow down the devastating effects of climate change. But if you look online and in the media, it’s very hard to find a good reference for when 2° will actually happen. Presently, the 2° target floats abstractly in the public mind. The Climate Clock acts a public line in the sand and says, this is the date. It is a measuring stick by which we can evaluate our progress.

Every spring, the Climate Clock will be stopped. A group of leading climate scientists from around the world will evaluate the latest data; and then we will restart the Clock with a new time. We will be able to see then how we are doing in relation to 2°. Have we gained time or lost time?

Humanity has the power to add time to the Clock, but only if we work collectivity and measure our progress against defined targets.

The Clock is built to scale. It can be downloaded and embedded on any website as an iframe. For outdoor building projections or at conferences, the Clock can be downloaded as a simple Google Chrome app and played on any computer running the latest version of Chrome (no internet connection is required as the Clock’s date and time is validated by the internal date and time of the computer). We can easily customize the Clock to any language but presently it runs in French and English. Please contact us of you would like to project the Climate Clock and we will send you the instructions for how to do so.

Phase 2 of the Clock will be building an interactive companion website with data visualization all related to time. It will allow the user to manipulate the relevant data points and explore the relationship between the factors that effect the date of 2° through an interactive graphic interface.  

This site will allow users to manipulate multi-factor climate data and experience a visual representation of the effects on temperature and time on the Clock. By city, by country, by continent; what does the data really mean in terms of time?

For example, If all countries stick to their Paris Agreement promises how much time does that buy us on the Clock? (Answer, only 6 years). If North America switches to green energy how many years does that add to the Clock? If China goes vegetarian how many years?

How will President Trump's environmental policies affect the Clock?

The Clock represents a radical new way to measure climate change, by using a metric we understand. This relationship between temperature and time is crucial in the story of climate change but has been largely missing from the narrative. 

We don’t measure our lives in degrees. We measure our lives in years. 


Upcoming Installations:

• Projection at Printemps Numérique, May 2, 2017 Montreal, QC
• Projection at Ontario Climate Symposium, May 11-12, 2017, Toronto ON.
• Projection at Canadian Association of Science Centres Annual Conference, May 4-6, 2017, Toronto, ON
• Projection at EECOM conference, May 18-21, 2017, Wolfville, Nova Scotia
• Projection Innovate4Climate Summit, hosted by the World Bank, May 22-25, 2017, Barcelona, Spain
• Invited to present and project at New Cities Summit, Incheon Songdo, South Korea (June 7-9, 2017) 
• Projections as part of Canada C3 expedition and a Spotlight Learning Resource for Canada C3
• Working with Studio Normal to build a large scale interactive projection based on the clock for MAPP MTL – video mapping festival, Montreal, Oct 4-8 2017
• Projection and presentation at World Design Summit, Montreal October 16-25 2017
• Multi City Projections planned for COP23 Nov 2017
• Projection in the house of Team Montreal at the 2017 Solar Decathlon in Shandong Dezhou, China


Team Members:

David Usher • Founder, Human Impact Lab
Dr. Damon Matthews • Associate Professor and Concordia University Research Chair (Climate Science and Sustainability) in the Department of Geography Planning and Environment
Gillian Nycum • Director of Strategic Initiatives, Human Impact Lab
Emmanuel Sévigny • Playmind Creative Studio specialized in the conception, realization and development of digital media
Paul Simard • Principal Director, Faculty of Arts and Science
Jonathan Gallivan • Developer, Gallivan Media
Dr. Carmela Cucuzzella • Assistant Professor in the Design and Computation Arts Department at Concordia University
Prem Sooriyakumar • Knowledge Broker, Concordia University
David Oram • Advancement and Coordination Officer, Future Earth
Jean-Patrick Toussaint • Science Officer, Future Earth
Audrey Dépault • National Manager, Climate Reality Project Canada
Marcus Peters • Concordia Student Union
Programmers: Waseem Hasan and Adam Davies.

Patrick Watson • The Great Escape
David Usher • Prelude (Acoustic)

Cloudid Media
Sabrina Reeves

Support Organizations:
David Suzuki Foundation
Future Earth
Climate Reality Project Canada

Past Installations:
• David Suzuki Foundation Event
• Centre for Sustainable Development building installation
• Montreal Innovation Summit projection and panel
• Concordia University Earth Day installation • April 22nd 2016: here
• C2 Montreal Conference projection and panel • May 24-26 2016
• Climate Reality Project installation, Vancouver • December 5, 2016: here
• Large scale building projection at Concordia University in Montreal from March 10-19, 2017. Panel discussion around the Climate Clock will be held in conjunction with the projection on March 18, 2017. More info
• Projection at World Strategic Forum, April 20, 2017, Miami FL

The numbers on the Clock:

The Climate Clock shows our best estimate of when global temperature will reach 1.5 and 2 °C above average pre-industrial temperatures, assuming global CO2 emissions continue to increase following the observed trend of the past five years.

All numbers are estimated relative to 1861-1880 as the reference temperature for the “pre-industrial” period. This is the earliest period for which we have reliable measurements of global temperature, and is the most common reference period for pre-industrial temperatures used in scientific analyses and policy discussions.

The Clock includes the following elements:

1) Tonnes of CO2
This value shows the total accumulated CO2 emissions from fossil fuel burning, cement manufacture and land-use change since 1870, based on data from the Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center1,2 combined with the most recent CO2 emissions data from the Global Carbon Project3,4.

2) Global temperature
This number represents the human contribution to global temperature increases observed since 1861-1880. The value shown is consistent with the recently proposed index of human-induced warming5. This index represents the portion of observed temperature change6 that can be attributed to all human drivers of climate change.

3) Time to 2 °C
The projection of the +2 °C date is based on extrapolating the most recent 5-year trend of CO2 emissions, which have increased by 1.1% per year during 2011-2016. Based on this annual rate of increase, total CO2 emissions will increase to 3500 billion tonnes of CO2 on May 26, 2046. 3500 billion tonnes is the best estimate of the total CO2 emissions since 1870 that would produce 2°C of global temperature increase in a scenario of increasing emissions, including the warming contribution from changes in non-CO2 greenhouse gas and aerosol emissions7,8.

4) Time to 1.5 °C
There are very few studies of emissions scenarios that lead to only 1.5 °C of global warming, so there is not yet a scientifically robust best estimate of the total quantity of CO2 emissions that push us past this climate target. We have therefore assumed that temperatures will increase exponentially – which is consistent with the prescribed rate of increase of CO2 emissions – from the current value of human-induced warming (+1.0072 on Dec 15, 2016; to +2°C warming on May 26, 2046. This results in an estimate of +1.5°C warming occurring on June 23, 2033. 

Supporting scientific literature and data sources:

  1. Boden, T. A., Marland, G. & Andres, R. J. Global, regional, and national fossil-fuel CO2 emissions. Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, US Department of Energy, Oak Ridge, Tenn, USA (2013). Data available at:
  2. Houghton, R. A. et al. Carbon emissions from land use and land-cover change.Biogeosciences 9, 5125–5142 (2012). Data available at:
  3. Jackson, R. B. et al. Reaching peak emissions. Nature Climate Change (2015). Data available at:
  4. Le Quere, C. et al. Global carbon budget 2014. Earth Syst. Sci. Data 7, 47–85 (2015). Data available at:
  5. Otto, F. E. L., Frame, D. J., Otto, A. & Allen, M. R. Embracing uncertainty in climate change policy. Nature Climate Change 5, 917–920 (2015).
  6. Morice, C. P., Kennedy, J. J., Rayner, N. A. & Jones, P. D. Quantifying uncertainties in global and regional temperature change using an ensemble of observational estimates: The HadCRUT4 data set. J Geophys Res-Atmos 117, (2012). Data available at:
  7. Friedlingstein, P. et al. Persistent growth of CO2 emissions and implications for reaching climate targets. Nature Geoscience 7, 709–715 (2014).
  8. Rogelj, J. et al. Differences between carbon budget estimates unravelled. Nature Climate Change 6, 245–252 (2016).