CO2 concentrations are higher than ever, study reports

A new report reveals that atmospheric carbon concentrations are the highest they have been in 800,000 years.
By Jason Spencer | Nov 02, 2017
CO2 concentrations in the Earth's atmosphere reached record highs throughout 2016, according to a newreport from the World Meteorological Organization (WMO).

While CO2 has been steadily on the rise throughout the past decade, last year's increase was roughly 50 percent higher than the average of the past 10 years. Researchers believe that sudden spike could not only trigger further climate shifts, but it could also make most global temperature targets unattainable.

The team gathered this new information by looking at climate measurements taken from 51 different countries. That revealed, in 2016, average concentrations of CO2 hit 403.3 parts per million (ppm), a jump from the 400 parts per million noted in 2015.

"It is the largest increase we have ever seen in the 30 years we have had this network," said Oksana Tarasova, chief of WMO's global atmosphere watch program, told BBC News. "The largest increase was in the previous El Nio, in 1997-1998, and it was 2.7ppm; and now it is 3.3ppm. It is also 50% higher than the average of the last 10 years."

El Nio affects carbon levels by causing droughts that limit the uptake of CO2 by plants and trees. As a result, while emissions from human sources have slowed down over the past few years, the total amount of carbon in the atmosphere has remained high. That is concerning because such levels could lead to bothecological and economic disruptions.

The last time the Earth experienced such high amounts of CO2 was three to five million years ago during the mid-Pliocene Epoch. At that time, the climate was 2 to 3 Celsius warmer, and sea levels were 32 to 65 feet higher.

Not only are the CO2 levels in the report concerning, but scientists also discovered that atmospheric methane levels -- which were also larger than the average over the past 10 years -- are on the rise as well.That is cause for worry because methane tends to drive up temperatures, which in turn releases more methane from natural sources.

The new findings are important because they show the agreement reached at the Paris climate accord might be reaching too low. Something needs to be done to curb the rising emissions, and if the problem is not resolved things will only get worse.

"The numbers don't lie. We are still emitting far too much and this needs to be reversed," said Erik Solheim, head of UN Environment, according to CNN. "We have many of the solutions already to address this challenge. What we need now is global political will and a new sense of urgency."

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