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CO2 levels surge to record highs as world falls behind on climate action

CO2 levels surge

Atmospheric CO2 levels continue to rise as governments failing to tackle climate change at the levels required. Creative Commons: Petter Duvander, 2012

Levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere reached record highs in 2013, as a surge in carbon dioxide saw atmospheric concentrations rise at the fastest rates in 30 years, according to new figures from the World Meteorological Organisation.

Concentrations of atmospheric carbon dioxide increase by almost 3 parts per million (ppm) on the previous year, reaching an average 396ppm in 2013.

Despite warnings from the world’s scientists on the need to cut emissions, 2012 to 2013 saw concentrations of greenhouse gases rise at their fastest rate since 1984.

The WMO’s annual greenhouse gas bulletin shows 2013 concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere were 142% higher than they were before the Industrial Revolution, while other potent greenhouse gases have also risen significantly.

The bulletin does not measure emissions from power stations but instead examines the level of warming gases that remain in the atmosphere after complex interactions take place between the air, the land and the oceans.

Around half of all emissions are said to be taken up by the seas, trees and living things.

At current rates, the WMO warns annual concentrations could pass the symbolic 400ppm in 2015 or 2016. This level has already been reached over shorter periods and regionally.

It says the record highs should inject even greater urgency into the need to international action on climate change.

WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud said:

We have the knowledge and we have the tools for action to try and keep temperature increases within 2°c to give our planet a chance and to give our children and grandchildren a future.

Pleading ignorance can no longer be an excuse for not acting.

International climate negotiations aim to prevent global average temperatures rising 2°C above preindustrial levels, a threshold at which scientists say dangerous levels of climate change could emerge.

Some scientists say the 2°C increase could happen if average carbon concentrations reach 405 ppm, while others say closer to 450 ppm.

Governments failing to deliver

Despite these strong warnings, however, new research from consultancy PricewaterhouseCoopers warns that the world’s major economies are falling further and further behind meeting the rate of emission reductions needed to hold temperature rise below the 2°c threshold.

The world is in fact heading towards a 4°c warming, warns PwC.

And even if the current emission reductions pledged by key economies were met, the world would still hit 3°c of warming by the end of the century, says the report.

PwC’s Jonathan Grant said:

The gap between what we are achieving and what we need to do is growing wider every year. Current pledges really put us on tracks for 3°c. This is a long way from what governments are talking about.

The sixth annual Low Carbon Economy Index report examined progress of the major developed and emerging economies in reducing their carbon intensity – their emissions per unit of gross domestic product.

It showed that carbon intensity would have to be cut by 6.2% a year to hold temperature rise below the 2°c threshold.

That compares to an annual rate of just 1.2% seen in 2012-2013.

Achieving such a goal would require major shifts in energy production away from dirty fossil fuels and into renewables – greater than those achieved in any country to date.

As world leaders prepare for the UN Secretary General’s Climate Summit in New York later this month, it is clear that much more work needs to be down shift the world off the dangerous pathways that this week’s two reports have revealed.

With a crucial eighteen months ahead for the climate challenge – with governments expected to agree a new global treaty on climate change by the end of 2015 – it is hoped the New York summit will reinvigorate efforts to forge a cleaner, greener future and avoid the worst impacts of climate change.

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