Report: CO2 levels in atmosphere reach highest in human history

World Meteorological Organization demands ‘urgent climate action now’

Carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere have reached the highest recorded in human history and are continuing to rise, according to a report released last week by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO).

“There is no sign of a slowdown, let alone a decline, in greenhouse gases concentration in the atmosphere despite all the commitments under the Paris Agreement on Climate Change,” said WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas. “We need to translate the commitments into action and increase the level of ambition for the sake of the future welfare of mankind.”

The organization says that future generations will be confronted with increasingly severe impacts of climate change. These include:

  • Rising temperatures
  • More extreme weather
  • Water stress
  • Sea level rise
  • Disruption to ecosystems

Read more: Breaking climate news: World Meteorological Organization releases new global statistics

The findings

In 2018, global average concentrations of carbon dioxide reached 407.8 parts per million, the WMO report said, meaning that for every million molecules in Earth’s atmosphere, nearly 408 were carbon dioxide. This is up from 405.5 parts per million in 2017, and the 400 parts per million benchmark reached in 2015.

Carbon dioxide traps heat from the sun, causing a global rise in temperature. It can remain in the atmosphere for centuries and in the oceans for even longer, the WMO said.

“It is worth recalling that the last time the Earth experienced a comparable concentration of CO2 was 3-5 million years ago,” Taalas said. “Back then, the temperature was 2-3 degrees Celsius warmer, sea level was 10-20 meters higher than now.”

There are indications that the increase in carbon dioxide levels are directly related to fossil fuel combustion, the WMO said. Fossil fuels were formed from plant material millions of years ago and do not contain radiocarbon. Therefore, burning fossil fuels would release radiocarbon-free CO2 into the atmosphere, which is exactly what experts are finding, according to the WMO.

There have also been increases in atmospheric levels of methane and nitrous oxide, the report said.

What is being done?

The United Nations has called on countries to strengthen their commitments to the 2015 Paris Agreement to stall climate change.

The Paris Agreement aims to limit the global temperature increase to 2 degrees Celsius over preindustrial levels. Suggested measures include establishing vehicle emission standards, placing a price on carbon emissions and phasing out coal power plants.

G20 countries account for 78 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. Of those twenty nations, six are projected to meet the commitments they made under the Paris Agreement. The UN said that countries must increase their commitment level—reducing their emissions by five times the current rates outlined in the Paris Accords.

The United States leads G20 countries in per-capita greenhouse gas emissions at just above 20 tons of carbon dioxide per capita last year, according to the UN report.

“If we do not take urgent climate action now, then we are heading for a temperature increase of more than 3 degrees Celsius by the end of the century, with ever more harmful impacts on human wellbeing,” said Taalas. “We are nowhere near on track to meet the Paris Agreement target.”

Last month, President Trump, who has falsely claimed that climate change is a hoax, formally notified the United Nations that the US would withdraw from the Paris Agreement. When it presumably completes its withdrawal process next year, the US will be the only country in the world to not be participating in the agreement.

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