Greenhouse gas levels in atmosphere reach new record

Petteri Taalas, WMO Secretary-General, during a press conference at the European headquarters of the UN,Geneva, 25 November.

Levels of heat-trapping greenhouse gases in the atmosphere have reached another new record high, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) reported on Monday. There is no sign of a reversal in this trend, which is driving long-term climate change, sea level rise, ocean acidification and more extreme weather.

Since 1990, the warming effect of greenhouse gases has increased by 43%, according to the WMO report that was published one week before the start of the UN Climate Change Conference in Madrid."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," WMO Secretary General Petteri Taalas said, cited by dpa.

Concentrations of carbon dioxide (CO2), which accounts for most of the global warming effect, reached a high of 407.8 parts per million. This is the highest concentration since 3 million to 5 million years ago, Taalas said. "Back then, the temperature was 2 to 3 degrees warmer and the sea level was 10 to 20 metres higher than now," he added. CO2 levels have now reached nearly 150% of the level seen in 1750, before the start of the industrial revolution.

While deforestation and other human use of land account to a significant portion of CO2 emissions, methane gas concentrations also reached a new record because global warming has triggered the release of this gas in warmer regions. "If it gets warmer, you get more methane emissions from tropical wetlands," senior WMO scientist Oksana Tarasova said. Heavy use of fertilizers led to the highest annual increase of nitrous oxide concentrations on record. Methane now amounts to 259% of pre-industrial levels, while nitrous oxide stands at 123%.

Taalas said that China is the world's largest source of greenhouse gases, but he pointed out that other countries outside the club of industrialized nations have also increased their output. Neither China nor the EU nor the US could therefore solve the climate issue alone, he said, calling for global dramatic shift away from fossil fuel energy. However, he warned that citizens need to be brought on board to support the policy changes. "The populists are gaining if you are too radical in your mitigation efforts," Taalas said, pointing to France's Yellow Vest movement that originated as a protest against fuel taxes.

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