Anthropogenic climate change is accelerating

As a result of growing greenhouse gas emissions, climate models predict that our planet will get significantly warmer, that ecosystems will be changed or destroyed, and that enormous human and economic costs will be incurred. These scenarios aren’t guaranteed, but avoiding them will be very hard. At Stripe, we’re trying to take small steps to mitigate our impact.

Climate change is happening

While climate modeling is complicated, the evidence is increasingly strong. The environmental impact of burning fossil fuels for energy at a global scale is significant. Since the beginning of the 20th century, sea levels have risen 7-8 inches and Earth’s surface temperature has risen by 1.8°F globally. Any warming may hurt us—rising sea levels, more forest fires, and more extreme weather, along with changes in everything from precipitation patterns to ocean currents. But non-linear dynamics and unpredictable second-order effects may make reversing the damage harder the further we go.

In a complex system, it's very hard to know how far is too far. But the precautionary principle makes drastic changes worrisome. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change deemed 2°C (3.6°F) above pre-industrial levels to be the maximum tenable global temperature increase. Beyond that, the risk of irreversible harm looks unacceptable.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimates that we cannot cumulatively emit more than one trillion metric tonnes of carbon while remaining below 2°C of warming. Earth is already halfway to that emission threshold and may exceed it by 2050.

Emission scenarios predict the extent and severity of humans’ potential impact.

The IPCC explores potential scenarios of human activity on future rates and magnitudes of climate change through Representative Concentration Pathways (RCP). RCPs take into account both climate dynamics and real-world factors like population growth, environmental policy, and development of new technologies. There are three commonly-used RCP scenarios: 8.5 (high), 4.5 (medium), 2.6 (low). To date, our global emissions trajectory and climate policy outlook most closely resemble RCP 8.5.

The charts below show how each RCP scenario breaks down across three key indexes of climate change: composition of renewable energy production, global surface temperature, and atmospheric CO2 emissions and concentration. As demonstrated in the graphs, RCP 2.6 provides the best chance of reducing the danger threshold beyond the risk of irreversible harm to the environment.

  • RCP 2.6

    Low emissions

    We can reasonably expect that this RCP will limit the increase of global mean temperature to 2 degrees Celsius by reducing the emissions of greenhouse gases from 2010 to 2100 by nearly 90%. This outcome will require immediate progress in energy efficiency, increased deployment of renewable and nuclear power, and widespread use of carbon capture, storage, and bioenergy.

  • RCP 4.5

    Medium emissions

    Assumes a worldwide effort to reduce emissions by roughly 50% from 2010 to 2100 via policy change and technological developments, leading to CO2 emissions peaking mid-century and declining thereafter. This scenario could keep us under the required two degrees of global warming, but would require half of the world's global energy production to come from renewable sources by 2060.

  • RCP 8.5

    High emissions

    Represents a likely 'business as usual' outcome if there are no policy changes to reduce emissions, and only modest technological improvements and behavioral changes. Greenhouse gas emissions will rise by a factor of three over the course of the century due to a high fossil-intensity and high demand of the energy sector.

Composition of renewable energy production

RCP 2.6 requires a big shift towards renewable and nuclear energy. The bar chart illustrates global energy production in 2000 as well as three potential scenarios for 2100, broken out by production type.

RCP 8.5 is highly energy-intensive, resulting from a combination of high population growth, high fossil-fuel use, and a lower rate of technology development.

In contrast, RCP 2.6 has the lowest energy intensity due to curbed oil usage and an increase in Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) technology. Though demand, pricing, and climate policy affect the composition of each scenario, natural gas and coal will continue to represent a significant portion of total energy production across all scenarios.

Primary energy consumption (EJ)
  • Solar, Wind & Geothermal
  • Hydro
  • Bio-energy
  • Nuclear
  • Gas
  • Oil
  • Coal

Global average surface temperature

In RCP 2.6, surface temperatures can remain at an acceptable level. This graph shows historical global average surface air temperatures and future temperature projections. The data is presented as differences ("anomalies") from the mean global temperature between 1986-2005 — negative values are temperatures cooler than this period, while positive values are warmer.

In RCP 8.5, increasing CO2 emissions drive global temperatures as much as 4°C higher than we’ve observed recently, which will lead to rising sea levels and more extreme weather events. For RCP 2.6, where policy and technological changes drastically reduce emissions, global temperature stabilizes at 1°C above recent levels, below the UN threshold.

Global average surface temperature change (°C)
  • Observed
  • RCP 2.6
  • RCP 4.5
  • RCP 8.5

Atmospheric CO2 concentration

Even if we achieve RCP 2.6, historical emission rates have a lasting effect on atmospheric levels of CO2. While many gases affect infrared radiation in relevant ways, Carbon Dioxide (CO2) is the most significant greenhouse gas.

The concentration line chart shows the global historical abundances of CO2 (black line) in mole fraction (parts per million), and the projections of CO2 abundances (colored lines) through the year 2100. The emissions line chart shows historical anthropogenic emissions, and projected emission levels, from fossil fuels and other industrial sources.

Even in RCP 2.6, the abundance of CO2 will likely increase for another several decades despite a dramatic decline in greenhouse gas emissions after 2020.

  • Observed
  • RCP 2.6
  • RCP 4.5
  • RCP 8.5

In 2017, Stripe became a carbon-neutral company

Though Stripe doesn’t make a physical product—our API powers online commerce for hundreds of thousands of businesses around the world—our operations still contribute to global climate change. So, we decided to take action by measuring our greenhouse gas footprint and purchasing enough carbon offsets to reach net-zero emissions.

We began 2017 at an estimated 18,000 metric tonnes of emissions. The GHG Protocol Corporate Standard assesses greenhouse gas emissions on three dimensions. Stripe estimated all three emission scopes, in tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (TCO2E), to determine the magnitude of our impact.

  1. Scope 1

    Direct GHG

    Emissions from sources owned or controlled by Stripe, e.g. natural gas burned to heat our buildings.

    320
    tCO2e
  2. Scope 2

    Indirect GHG

    Emissions from purchased energy sources, e.g. the electricity we buy from utility companies.

    880
    tCO2e
  3. Scope 3

    Other indirect GHG

    Emissions from operations that are not directly owned or controlled by Stripe. This includes many sources, but we’ve chosen to focus on servers, employee commuting, and business travel.

    16800
    tCO2e

Through our carbon offset program, we ended 2017 with a net-zero footprint

To account for our emissions, we purchased offsets at a 1:1 ratio from a U.S. landfill.

This project runs a gas collection and destruction system to capture and burn methane, a byproduct of decomposing waste.

By purchasing offsets, the landfill can voluntarily run the collection system—an expensive undertaking they might not have been willing or able to fund alone—preventing thousands of metric tonnes of methane from reaching the atmosphere.

LinerCollection systemoperationsCollection systemdesignMeteringElectricity andfossil fuelsFlare

Because methane has more than 20X the global warming potential of carbon dioxide and methane burns to produce just CO2 and water, the net trade is actually favorable.