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‘Time running out’ says UN as CO2 levels hit record April high

WMO chief says new data shows world leaders must urgently reach a deal to limit atmospheric carbon dioxide levels

Carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere rose from 278 parts per million in 1750 to 393 ppm by 2012

Carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere rose from 278 parts per million in 1750 to 393 ppm by 2012

By Ed King

World leaders are running out of time to address the threat of climate change, the UN’s chief meteorologist warned as carbon dioxide levels hit record highs in April.

Data released by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) revealed that for the first time CO2 topped 400 parts per million (ppm) in April throughout the northern hemisphere.

WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud said the findings had “symbolic and scientific” significance, adding it should serve as a “wake-up call” over the causes of climate change.

“If we are to preserve our planet for future generations, we need urgent action to curb new emissions of these heat trapping gases,” he said.

According to the WMO, carbon dioxide was responsible for 85% of the increase in radiative forcing – the warming effect on our climate – between 2002-2012.

The news comes a week before nearly 200 countries gather in Bonn for the latest round of UN-sponsored talks on developing a carbon dioxide emissions reduction deal.

A draft agreement is set to be presented to world leaders in November, before governments reveal what levels of carbon cuts they consider acceptable in the first quarter of 2015.

CO2 levels between March-April 2014 at WMO measuring stations (Pic: WMO)

CO2 levels between March-April 2014 at WMO measuring stations (Pic: WMO)

Scientists say emissions will need to peak by 2020 and then decline rapidly to limit warming to 2C, a target agreed at the 2009 round of UN talks in Copenhagen.

According to the UN climate science panel, the world has already used between half and two-thirds of its “carbon budget” the amount of CO2 that can be released before the 2C goal is impossible.

Temperature rises above this level are likely to be increasingly dangerous they say, causing accelerated melt of ice, rising sea levels and other extreme weather events.

Global levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere have risen steadily in the past century, say the WMO, hitting 393.1 ppm in 2012, 141% of pre-industrial levels.

It says the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere has increased on average by 2ppm every year for the past decade.

The seasonal minimum of CO2 is in summer, when substantial uptake by plants in the northern hemisphere sucks it out of the atmosphere, and will likely see concentration levels fall below 400ppm.

But the global annual average CO2 concentration is set to cross this threshold in 2015 or 2016, says the WMO.

It takes measurements from 50 countries including stations high in the Alps, Andes and Himalayas, as well as in the Arctic, Antarctic and in the far South Pacific.

 

 

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  • http://somewhere.com/ FMN

    Yet another wake-up call, among many that have been ignored one too many times. In fact in 2014 after 260+ years, the status quo remains unchanged:
    1) US+EU are the world’s biggest and longest cumulative polluter since 1751.
    2) UK is the world’s biggest cumulative polluter per capita since 1800.

    If Greenpeace, WWF, FoE, RAN, etc have been fighting the right battles, at the right regions (northern hemisphere of course), then we could have reversed the trend, just might.

    • Guenier

      It seems, FMN, that your understanding of some essential data is outdated. For example, according to the Technical Summary of the IPCC’s most recent report (WG III),** the developed world (i.e. more than just your US+EU) is responsible for less than half total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions emissions since 1750. Moreover, the Summary shows that growth in GHG emissions since the 1970s came mostly from the developing economies. That therefore is the trend that would have to be reversed if GHG emissions are to be cut – so perhaps Greenpeace etc. might usefully have given rather more attention to the developing world.

      The overall dilemma is summarised (with detailed supporting links) here: http://ipccreport.files.wordpress.com/2014/04/uk-climate-policies-are-pointless2.pdf

      ** http://report.mitigation2014.org/drafts/final-draft-postplenary/ipcc_wg3_ar5_final-draft_postplenary_technical-summary.pdf (go to page 13.)

      • http://www.walimglobal.com.ng/ Wasiu Adigun Alimi

        You are really right about your data. Developing countries has been contributing more to GHG emissions in recent times than in the past. Major source of energy here is Fuel wood and most rural dwellers get their means of livelihood from the forest engaging in activities such as illegal logging, sales of Shrubs, Lianas and other form of plant growth as a means of sustenance because of the socio-economic situations. The overall effect is decrease in trees to absorb CO2 leading to excess of this gas in the atmosphere which leads to loss of biodiversity and loss of natural resources.

        • Guenier

          Yes – burning wood and dung (normal practice for the world’s poorest people) emits vast amounts of GHG and is a major cause of sickness and short life – and it’s why poor people stay poor. The good news is that it is possible to overcome the latter problems. China has resoundingly demonstrated this by lifting over 600 million people out of poverty in the last 30 years. They’ve done so by giving them access to reliable, affordable energy. But that has largely been effected by burning fossil fuels – mainly coal. As a result China is responsible for over 27% of GHG emissions – more than the US and EU combined. And other developing economies are following suit. Hence the dilemma referred to in the link I provided above.

      • http://somewhere.com/ FMN

        I would have to scrutinize your link further and their sources, before I can comment.

        I’m fully aware that developing countries especially China is now top polluter, with its break-neck double digit economic growth in the last 30 years. But I wrote ‘cumulative’ pollution over 260+ years, which western economies are still the world’s leading cumulative polluters, by long shot.

        My beef is Greenpeace & Co fought the wrong battles and were in the wrong region – tropical areas. The WMO’s red alarming dots all over northern hemisphere is testament to that failure, today.

        The 2014 UN’s IPCC/FAO finding clearly singled out energy production sector (electricity & heating) as the worst culprit (25%) while livestock as the biggest GHG emitter/culprit from agriculture sector (24%), not productive crop like oil palm. In fact, UN scientists said in the same report that net greenhouse gas emissions due deforestation registered a nearly 10 percent decrease over the 2001-2010 period, due to increases in the amount of atmospheric carbon being sequestered in many countries’ forest sinks.

        Mind you tropical countries do not need to burn coal for their heating needs, and the vast mighty lush tropical forests did help sequester CO2 into oxygen. The WMO’s amber dots along the tropics confirm this, just by looking at their remote stations in Danum Valley (Malaysia) and Bukit Kototabang (Indonesia).

    • Bill

      My God!! The sky is falling–The sky is falling!!!!!!!

      Only communism can save us now!

  • fcvnyc

    Maynard Keynes, the famous British economist, believes that
    anything that matters can function as a monetary standard and has a dim view of
    gold as a standard. Thus, taking a specific tonnage of CO2e per person as a monetary
    standard is quite possible, though unusual even for liberal economists and thinktanks. I developed a carbon-based
    international monetary system based upon that standard. Its conceptual,
    institutional, ethical and strategic dimensions are presented in Verhagen 2012 “The
    Tierra Solution: Resolving the climate crisis through monetary transformation”
    and updated at http://www.timun.net.

    • Guenier

      How confident are you, fcvnyc, that the governments of, for example, China, India, Brazil, Russia, Iran and Saudi Arabia might be interested in (as you put it) “a global governance system that integrates the social, economic and environmental pillars of sustainable development”? I would suggest not even remotely.

  • Vestias

    As a person interested in the future of the envorimment We need yo work with yhe developing coutris to reduce the pollution and hver trade sanctions against nation who ignore good science but the good science must show economic benefits or these coutris will go for the expensive means of power prodution and industrial

    • Guenier

      Who is the “We” who must do these things? If you mean the developed economies – i.e. the West – it sounds like an embarrassingly arrogant neo-colonial attitude that’s unlikely to attract “developing” economies such as China, India, Brazil, Indonesia, South Korea and South Africa. They might be amused by your proposed trade sanctions.

  • http://somewhere.com/ FMN

    I would have to scrutinize Guenier’s link further and their sources, before I can comment.

    I’m fully aware that developing countries especially China is now top polluter, with its break-neck double digit economic growth in the last 30 years. But I wrote ‘cumulative’ pollution over 260+ years, which western economies are still the world’s leading cumulative polluters, by long shot.

    My beef is Greenpeace & Co fought the wrong battles and were in the wrong region – tropical areas. The WMO’s red alarming dots all over northern hemisphere is testament to that failure, today.

    The 2014 UN’s IPCC/FAO finding clearly singled out energy production sector (electricity & heating) as the worst culprit (25%) while livestock as the biggest GHG emitter/culprit from agriculture sector (24%), not productive crop like oil palm. In fact, UN scientists said in the same report that net greenhouse gas emissions due deforestation registered a nearly 10 percent decrease over the 2001-2010 period, due to increases in the amount of atmospheric carbon being sequestered in many countries’ forest sinks.

    Mind you tropical countries do not need to burn coal for their heating needs, and the vast mighty lush tropical forests did help sequester CO2 into oxygen. The WMO’s amber dots along the tropics confirm this, just by looking at their remote stations in Danum Valley (Malaysia) and Bukit Kototabang (Indonesia).

    • Guenier

      Guest: for some mysterious reason, my reply to this post seems not to have survived moderation. So here’s the essence of it:

      First go here: http://report.mitigation2014.org/drafts/final-draft-postplenary/ipcc_wg3_ar5_final-draft_postplenary_technical-summary.pdf
      As you’ll see, it’s the Technical Summary of WG3 from the most recent IPCC Report (AR5).

      Then go to Figure TS.2 on page 13 and look at the RH Panel of the top category. The OECD (much more than your US+EU) is the blue block: assuming the IPCC scientists got it right, it was responsible for less than 50% of CUMULATIVE CO2 emissions (all sources) from 1750 – 2010.