CO2 levels unlikely to dip below pre-2015 levels for many generations

Average concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere reached new records this year, marking a new era of climate change.

The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) announces the global average concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere “have reached the symbolic and significant milestone of 400 parts per millions in 2015 and surged again to new records in 2016 on the back of the very powerful El Niño event.”

This milestone is for the first time a global average basis for the year and the longest-established greenhouse gas monitoring station at Mauna Loa, Hawaii, predicts CO2 concentrations won’t dip below pre-2015 levels for many generations.

“The year 2015 ushered in a new era of optimism and climate action with the Paris climate change agreement. But it will also make history as marking a new era of climate change reality with record high greenhouse gas concentrations,” said WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas.

The WMO’s annual Greenhouse Gas Bulletin explains the spurt in CO2 was fueled by El Niño that started in 2015 and had a strong impact in 2016. It triggered droughts in tropical regions and reduced the capacity of forests, vegetation and the oceans to absorb CO2. Normally these “sinks” absorb about half of the emissions, but there is a risk that they may become saturated and increase the fraction of emitted CO2.

“Without tackling carbon dioxide emissions, we cannot tackle climate change and keep temperature increases to below 2 degrees Celcius above the pre-industrial era. It is therefore of the utmost importance that the Paris Agreement does indeed enter into force well ahead of schedule on 4 November and that we fast-track its implementation,” stressed Mr. Taalas.

WMO had already warmed earlier this year the Earth is already one degree Celsius hotter than at the start of the 20th century, this is halfway to the critical two-degree threshold. National climate plans adopted so far, states the agency, may not be enough to avoid a three-degree temperature rise.

Carbon dioxide remains in the atmosphere for thousands of years, trapping heat. In the oceans the lifespan of carbon dioxide is even longer. According to the WMO it is the single most important greenhouse gas emitted by human activities, accounting for 85% of the warming effect on our climate over the past decade.

As part of post-Paris climate action, “the recent agreement in Kigali to amend the so-called Montreal Protocol and phase out hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) used in air conditioners and refrigerators, which act as strong greenhouse gases, is good news. WMO salutes the commitment of the international community to meaningful climate action,” said Mr Taalas.

The deal aims to reduce emissions of strong chemicals and was signed by nearly 200 countries. It was hailed by the UN Environment Program as the single largest contribution the world has made to keep global temperatures below the two-degree limit.

Meanwhile, a couple of weeks ago the Paris Agreement reached the final threshold of 55 countries, representing 55% of global emissions required for the agreement to enter into effect on early November.

LatinAmerican Post | Maria Andrea Marquez

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