Written by
Louise Bøgeskov Hou

Editorial #06: The ClimateClock

The ClimateClock — Union Square, Manhattan, New York

The ClimateClock is an open-source project assembled by a team of artists, makers, scientists, and activists based in New York.

The project has recently gotten a lot of attention as the group has reprogrammed the Metronome in Union Square to adopt a new environmental mission.

Now, instead of measuring the usual 24-hour cycles, it's measuring what two artists, Gan Golan and Andrew Boyd, present as the critical window for action to prevent the effects of global warming from becoming irreversible.

On Saturday at 3:20 p.m., messages including "The Earth has a deadline" appeared on the display. Then the numbers — 7:103:15:40:07 — showed up, representing the years, days, hours, minutes, and seconds until that deadline.

The idea is to publicly illustrate the urgency of combating climate change and encourage Governments worldwide to take a stand and act against global warming, reduce greenhouse gas emission, and human-caused global heating.

At the launch Boyd said:

"The clock is telling us we must reduce our emissions as much as we can as fast as we can. The technology is there. We can do this—and in the process, create a healthier, more just world for all of us. Our planet has a deadline. But we can turn it into a lifeline." 

The clock indicates that we only have limited time to undertake bold transformation of our energy system and economy in hopes of keeping global temperature rise under 1.5°C. 

Right before the countdown began, Golan made the following statement:

"This is our way to shout that number from the rooftops!"

"Metronome" is a large public art installation by Andrew Ginzel and Kristin Jones, covering a 10-story-residential high rise located along the south end of Union Square in New York City. The work also includes concentric circles rendered in gold-flecked brick that ripple outward from a round opening. When it was unveiled in 1999, clouds of steam and musical tones were issued from the facade. Over the years, the sound and steam have ceased. However, the numbers kept moving. 

Allegedly, the original artists had already been thinking about reimagining the work to address the deepening climate crisis when they got a letter from the Boyd & Golan in February. Call it magic or beautiful synchronicity.

When asked about why they put the number on public display, Boyd has said: 

"This is arguably the most important number in the world ... A monument is often how society shows what's important, what it elevates, what is at center stage ... We hope this initiative will encourage everybody to join us in fighting for the future of our planet." 

The ClimateClock will be displayed on the 14th Street building, One Union Square South, through Sept. 27, the end of NYC Climate Week. However, the aim is to arrange for the clock to be permanently displayed, there or elsewhere.

On it's stated that the clock is meant to draw the world’s attention to the urgency for action—if we are to survive, we need a constant, public reminder of our deadline—everywhere! The team encourage everyone to join the movement and help them put a ClimateClock in every major city in the world.


This is the only way to ensure our world will suffer less negative impacts on the intensity and frequency of extreme events, resources, ecosystems, biodiversity, food security, cities, tourism, carbon removal, and global economy. IPCC Special Report on Global Warming clearly states that adaptation to change will be less difficult.

Future climate-related risks will be reduced by the upscaling and acceleration of far-reaching, multilevel and cross-sectoral climate mitigation and by both incremental and transformational adaptation.

To put it simply, maintaining the global temperature increase below 1.5°C  is in all our interest as it increases our chances of survival on this beautiful planet of ours—everything we do matters!

This project has inspired me personally, and I want to support the message. Therefore, going forward, you'll be able to see a ClimateClock whenever you enter LULU—LAND to continuously remind all of us to do better. Even the tiniest steps and small changes in our everyday lives count when it comes to creating a better future for everyone. Let's all take part in reaching this goal!







The ClimateClock shows two numbers. The first, in red, is a timer, counting down how long it will take, at current rates of emissions, to burn through our “carbon budget” — the amount of CO2 that can still be released into the atmosphere while limiting global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. This is our deadline, the time we have left to take decisive action to keep warming under the 1.5°C threshold. The second number, in green, is tracking the growing % of the world’s energy currently supplied from renewable sources. This is our lifeline. Simply put, we need to get our lifeline to 100% before our deadline reaches 0.

This clock follows the methodology of the carbon clock made by the Mercator Research Institute on Global Commons and Climate Change (MCC) which uses data from the recent IPCC Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C. The report states that starting from 2018, a carbon dioxide budget of 420 Gt of CO2 gives us a 67% chance to stay under 1.5°C of warming.

“The concept of the carbon budget is based on a nearly linear relationship between the cumulative emissions and the temperature rise. Nevertheless, this does not mean that the earth would necessarily be 1.5°C warmer at the very point in time when the remaining carbon budget for staying below the 1.5°C threshold was used up. This is due to, among others, the fact that there is a time lag between the concentration of emissions in the atmosphere and the impact thereof on the temperature”.¹

MCC also notes that their calculations assume “that the annual emissions of years to come will be close to those of the year 2017, while latest numbers show that emissions are still on the rise.” If this trend continues, the time we have to act will be reduced. Furthermore, it is unlikely that earth’s climate warms at a linear rate. For example, potential climatic tipping points have been identified in Earth’s physical climate system that would cause large and possibly irreversible transitions in the state of the climate.² These uncertainties are why the IPCC report states there is a 67% chance that the carbon budget will limit warming to 1.5°C.

The IPCC Special Report on Global Warming is largely based on a research paper called “Global Carbon Budget 2018” published in 2018 by Corinne Le Quéré et al.³ This paper estimates the carbon budget in the units of GtC.⁴


1. Mercator Research Institute on Global Commons and Climate Change. “That’s How Fast the Carbon Clock Is Ticking.” MCC Carbon Clock. (accessed September 22, 2019).

2. Lenton, Timothy M., Hermann Held, Elmar Kriegler, Jim W. Hall, Wolfgang Lucht, Stefan Rahmstorf, and Hans Joachim Schellnhuber. "Tipping elements in the Earth's climate system." Proceedings of the national Academy of Sciences 105, no. 6 (2008): 1786-1793.

3. Le Quéré, Corinne, Robbie M. Andrew, Pierre Friedlingstein, Stephen Sitch, Judith Hauck, Julia Pongratz, Penelope A. Pickers et al. "Global carbon budget 2018." Earth System Science Data (Online) 10, no. 4 (2018).

4. IPCC, 2018: Global warming of 1.5°C. An IPCC Special Report on the impacts of global warming of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels and related global greenhouse gas emission pathways, in the context of strengthening the global response to the threat of climate change, sustainable development, and efforts to eradicate poverty [V. Masson-Delmotte, P. Zhai, H. O. Pörtner, D. Roberts, J. Skea, P.R. Shukla, A. Pirani, W. Moufouma-Okia, C. Péan, R. Pidcock, S. Connors, J. B. R. Matthews, Y. Chen, X. Zhou, M. I. Gomis, E. Lonnoy, T. Maycock, M. Tignor, T. Waterfield (eds.)]. In Press.