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Cape Grim climate milestone underscores need for urgent action

Creative Commons: Ian Cochrane, Cape Grim DSC08448 Tasmania, 2015.

Creative Commons: Ian Cochrane, Cape Grim DSC08448 Tasmania, 2015.

The burden fossil fuels are putting on the planet is again in the spotlight, as an atmospheric monitoring site in Tasmania’s Cape Grim has recorded carbon dioxide measurements of 400 parts per million (ppm) for the first time.

This is not the only time this threshold has been passed, with sites in the Northern Hemisphere registering 400ppm at various times since 2012.

But, unlike other stations, Cape Grim’s very stable baseline – and less seasonal variation than other sites – means levels are unlikely to dip below this milestone again.

We’re already seeing the brutal impacts of rapidly increasing CO2 concentrations and as governments meet in Bonn for the first round of UN climate talks since the Paris Agreement was signed, this milestone is yet another stark reminder of the urgent need for them to write the rulebook for the deal and move their economies onto a fossil free pathway.

Key Points

  • Greenhouse gas levels have hit a symbolic, but record peak. Until around 1850, global CO2 levels were running at roughly 280 parts per million (ppm) and 350ppm is a level considered “safe” from the worst impacts of climate change. The passing of 400ppm at Cape Grim – along with record fast increases at other stations – is significant and levels are unlikely to drop back below this milestone for a very long time unless “we get very good at mitigation”.
  • We have entered uncharted climate territory, and are living the consequences. As the relentless smashing of temperature records, the Fort McMurray wildfires, and the unprecedented bleaching of the Great Barrier reef have all shown, no continent will be left untouched by the impacts of our fossil fuel addiction. Scientists now warn the chances of such extreme events are higher than ever before, bringing an even bigger toll on people and communities, with the poorest and most vulnerable bearing the brunt.
  • We have changed the climate for the worse, but we can still change it for the better. The ink on the Paris agreement is well and truly dry now, and the hard work has now begun to write its rules and see through its pledge to hold warming below 1.5DegC. This will mean leaving the vast majority of fossil fuels in the ground and rapidly phasing out dirty energy for clean, sustainable alternatives – bringing huge economic and health benefits in the process.

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