UN says world is now in ‘uncharted territory’ as CO2 levels reach record high

UN says world is now in ‘uncharted territory’ as CO2 levels reach record high

The concentration of CO2 has passed a threshold not crossed since 4.5 million years ago making the planet “more dangerous and inhospitable for future generations," said the WMO.

The World Meteorological Organization (WMO), the weather agency of the United Nations, announced yesterday that the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere reached a new record high in 2014.

This uptick in carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide is making the planet “more dangerous and inhospitable for future generations,” said the WMO.

“We can’t see [carbon dioxide]. It is an invisible threat, but a very real one. It means hotter global temperatures, more extreme weather events like heat waves and floods, melting ice, rising sea levels and increased acidity of the oceans,” said WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud. “This is happening now and we are moving into uncharted territory at a frightening speed.”

The WMO report says that in 2014, carbon dioxide levels reached 397.7 parts per millon in 2014. Most worryingly, the concentration of CO2 in the Northern Hemisphere is slightly above 400ppm – a threshold not crossed since 4.5 million years ago. During the Industrial Revolution, carbon levels only ever came as high as 280ppm.

However, once absorbed by the atmosphere, greenhouse gases will linger there for years, resulting in a snowball effect. “Past, present and future emissions will have a cumulative impact on both global warming and ocean acidification. The laws of physics are non-negotiable,” said Jarraud.

“Since 1990 there has been a 36 percent increase in radiative forcing — the warming effect on our climate — because of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide from industrial, agricultural and domestic activities,” said UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric.

Greenhouses are released into the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels such as oil, gas, and coal. The gases are absorbed into the Earth’s atmosphere causing the planet’s temperature to rise steadily.

Temperature increases of this magnitude “means hotter global temperatures, more extreme weather events like heatwaves and floods, melting ice, rising sea levels and increased acidity of the oceans,” said the head of the UN weather agency. “This is happening now and we are moving into unchartered territory at a frightening speed.”

Carbon dioxide in particular is responsible for 63 percent of global warming. “Excess energy trapped by CO2 and other greenhouse gases is heating up the Earth surface which leads to increase in atmospheric water vapor which in turn is generating [and] trapping even more heat,” said Jarraud.

At the end of November, leaders from around the world will meet in Paris to devise a plan that will reduce carbon emissions and promote environmental sustainability. In this spirit, President Barack Obama has recently rejected the Keystone XL oil pipeline.

“Three weeks from now, I look forward to joining my fellow world leaders in Paris, where we’ve got to come together around an ambitious framework to protect the one planet that we’ve got while we still can,” said Obama.

“Every year we report a new record in greenhouse gas concentrations,” said Jarraud. “Every year we say that time is running out. We have to act now to slash greenhouse gas emissions if we are to have a chance to keep the increase in temperatures to manageable levels.”

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