CO₂ in atmosphere ‘surged’ to new high in 2016, UN says

CO₂ in atmosphere ‘surged’ to new high in 2016, UN says

Greenhouse Gas Bulletin finds carbon dioxide levels now match a time when the sea was 20 meters higher

View of Haifa under heavy smog (Avishag Shaar Yashuv/Flash90)
View of Haifa under heavy smog (Avishag Shaar Yashuv/Flash90)

The concentration of carbon dioxide (CO₂) in the atmosphere increased faster than ever last year and hit a new high, the UN said Monday, warning that drastic action is needed to achieve targets set by the Paris climate agreement.

“Concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere surged at a record-breaking speed in 2016,” the World Meteorological Organization said.

“Globally averaged concentrations of CO₂ reached 403.3 parts per million in 2016, up from 400.00 ppm in 2015 because of a combination of human activities and a strong El Nino event,” it said, referring to a weather phenomenon that causes droughts, reducing the number of plants that can absorb CO₂ from the atmosphere.

The Greenhouse Gas Bulletin, the UN weather agency’s annual flagship report, tracks the content of dangerous gasses in the atmosphere in the post-industrial era (since 1750).

The report also said that the last time Earth experienced similar CO₂ concentration rates was three to five million years ago, when the sea level was up to 20 meters (66 feet) higher than now.

“It is the largest increase we have ever seen in the 30 years we have had this network,” Oksana Tarasova, chief of WMO’s global atmosphere watch program, told the BBC. “The largest increase was in the previous El Niño, in 1997-1998 and it was 2.7ppm and now it is 3.3ppm, it is also 50% higher than the average of the last ten years.”

“Without rapid cuts in CO₂ and other greenhouse gas emissions, we will be heading for dangerous temperature increases by the end of this century, well above the target set by the Paris climate change agreement,” WMO chief Petteri Taalas said in a statement.

The historic agreement approved by 196 countries two years ago is facing renewed pressure following US President Donald Trump’s decision to quit the accord.

But nations are set to press on with the task of implementing it at climate talks in Bonn next week.

“The numbers don’t lie. We are still emitting far too much and this needs to be reversed,” the head of UN Environment, Erik Solheim, said in a statement on the new report. “What we need now is global political will and a new sense of urgency.”

The Greenhouse Gas Bulletin tracks concentrations of gases in the atmosphere, rather than emissions, with data compiled from a monitoring station in Mauna Loa, Hawaii.

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