A grim United Nations agency report reiterates a warning that climate scientists have been touting for months: At the rate we’re going, it’ll be near-impossible for the world to meet Paris climate targets unless drastic action to curb greenhouse gas emissions is taken swiftly.
The World Meteorological Organization’s annual Greenhouse Gas Bulletin, published Monday, describes how concentrations of global atmospheric carbon dioxide increased at a record rate in 2016 — reaching the highest level in 800,000 years of observable data.
“Globally averaged concentrations of CO2 reached 403.3 parts per million in 2016, up from 400.00 ppm in 2015 because of a combination of human activities and a strong El Niño event,” the organization says. “Concentrations of CO2 are now 145 percent of pre-industrial (before 1750) levels.”
The 3.3 ppm bump is significantly higher than the average annual increase over the past decade of 2.08 ppm, noted The Guardian, adding that the rise was also “well above the previous big El Niño year of 1998,” when CO2 concentration rose by 2.7 ppm.
“The numbers don’t lie. We are still emitting far too much and this needs to be reversed,” said Erik Solheim, head of U.N. Environment, in a statement. “What we need now is global political will and a new sense of urgency.”
CO2 emissions from human sources have slowed in recent years — but carbon dioxide lingers and continues to accumulate in the atmosphere for centuries, so the concentration of the greenhouse gas has continued to balloon, according to the World Meteorological Organization report. CO2 has been the primary driver of climate change since the Industrial Revolution.
Gavin Schmidt, NASA’s chief climate scientist, explained to Climate Central last year that even if CO2 emissions somehow plunged to zero tomorrow, the level of carbon dioxide “probably wouldn’t change much” and would only start to fall “in a decade or so.”
Recent studies have suggested that humans need to do more to slash the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere as the ability of natural carbon sinks to slurp up CO2 weakens. Studies have shown that carbon sinks, like oceans and the biosphere, may lose their efficacy in absorbing CO2 as temperatures rise. There’s also evidence suggesting that forests are being destroyed at such a rapid pace that they may be emitting more carbon dioxide than they mitigate.
“Without rapid cuts in CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions, we will be heading for dangerous temperature increases by the end of this century, well above the target set by the Paris climate change agreement,” World Meteorological Organization Secretary-General Petteri Taalas in a statement. “Future generations will inherit a much more inhospitable planet.”
The report was published in the days leading up to COP23, the U.N. climate change conference scheduled to take place in Bonn, Germany, from Nov. 6 to Nov. 17.
Reacting to report on Monday, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres did not mince words: