Carbon dioxide levels are the highest in human history

The amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere that is warming the planet broke a record in May, continuing its relentless rise, scienti...


The amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere that is warming the planet broke a record in May, continuing its relentless rise, scientists said on Friday. It is now 50% higher than the pre-industrial average, before humans began burning oil, gas and coal on a large scale in the late 19th century.

There is more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere today than at any time in at least 4 million years, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration officials said.

Gas concentration reached nearly 421 parts per million in May, the peak of the year, as power plants, vehicles, farms and other sources around the world continued to pump in huge amounts of dioxide of carbon in the atmosphere. Total emissions 36.3 billion tonnes in 2021the highest level in history.

As the amount of carbon dioxide increases, the planet continues to warm, with effects such as increased flooding, increased extreme heat, drought, and worsening wildfires already experiencing. millions of people around the world. Average global temperatures are now about 1.1 degrees Celsius, or 2 degrees Fahrenheit, higher than in pre-industrial times.

Rising levels of carbon dioxide are further evidence that countries have made little progress towards the goal set in Paris in 2015 to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. This is the threshold beyond which scientists say the likelihood of catastrophic effects of climate change increases significantly.

They are “a stark reminder that we must take urgent and serious action to become a more climate-ready nation,” Rick Spinrad, the NOAA administrator, said in a statement.

Although carbon dioxide levels fell somewhat around 2020 during the economic downturn caused by the coronavirus pandemic, there was no effect on the long-term trend, said Pieter Tans, senior scientist at Global Monitoring. NOAA Laboratory, in an interview.

The rate of increase in carbon dioxide concentration “has just continued”, he said. “And it’s continuing at about the same pace as it has over the past decade.”

Carbon dioxide levels vary throughout the year, increasing as vegetation dies and decays in fall and winter, and decreasing in spring and summer as growing plants take up the gas through photosynthesis. The peak is reached each May, just before plant growth accelerates in the northern hemisphere. (The North has a greater effect than the Southern Hemisphere because there is much more land area and vegetation in the North.)

Dr. Tans and others in the lab calculated the peak concentration this year at 420.99 parts per million, based on data from a NOAA weather station at the top of Mauna Loa volcano in Hawaii. Observations there began in the late 1950s by Scripps Institution of Oceanography scientist Charles David Keeling, and the long-term record is known as the Keeling Curve.

Scripps scientists are still making observations at Mauna Loa as part of a program led by Dr. Keeling’s son, Ralph Keeling. Using this independent data, which is similar to that of NOAA, they calculated the concentration to be 420.78.

Both figures are about 2 parts per million higher than last year’s record. This peak is 140 parts per million higher than the average concentration of pre-industrial days, which was consistently around 280 parts per million. Since that time, humans have pumped about 1.6 trillion tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

To meet the Paris Agreement target of 1.5 degrees Celsius, emissions must reach ‘net zero’ by 2050, meaning deep reductions, with remaining emissions being offset by carbon dioxide absorption carbon from oceans and vegetation. If the world moved closer to this goal, the rate of increase in carbon dioxide levels would slow and the Keeling Curve would flatten.

If emissions were completely eliminated, Dr Tans said, the Keeling Curve would begin to drop, as oceans and vegetation continued to absorb existing carbon dioxide from the air. The decline in atmospheric concentration will continue for hundreds of years, although gradually more slowly, he said.

At some point an equilibrium would be reached, he said, but carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere and oceans would be above pre-industrial levels and would remain so for thousands of years.

On such a long timescale, sea levels could rise significantly as polar ice melts and other changes could take place, such as the conversion of arctic tundra to forests.

“It’s that long tail that really worries me,” Dr. Tans said. “It has the potential to really change the climate.”

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