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‘Stark’ message for COP26 as global CO2 rises faster than average

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Economic activity may have come to a virtual standstill for weeks at a time in many parts of the world during the coronavirus lockdowns last year, but this hasn’t put a significant dent in carbon dioxide (CO2) levels in the Earth’s atmosphere.

In fact, concentrations of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) increased by more last year than the average increase recorded for the decade 2011-2020, reaching another record high, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) in Geneva announced on Monday.

Due to the economic slowdown, new emissions did indeed drop by 5.6 per cent last year, though this had no “discernible impact on the atmospheric levels of greenhouse gases and their growth rates,” according to the WMO.

The new level of carbon dioxide was 413.2 parts per million (ppm), up from 410.7 the year before. This is 149 per cent of pre-industrial level.

The 400ppm mark was broken in 2015. CO2 is responsible for about 66 per cent of the warming effect, according to the WMO. Collectively, greenhouse gases have already led to an average global warming of 1.1 degrees.

The WMO already has preliminary CO2 measurements for this year and these do not bode well either: at the Mauna Loa station on Hawaii in the USA, the concentration in July this year was 416.96 ppm, having been measured at 414.62 ppm last year.

WMO head Petteri Taalas identified the development of the Amazon region in Brazil as particularly a particularly grave threat to the planet. The South American rainforest is one of the largest CO2 sinks in the world, meaning it absorbs man-made CO2 emissions, but this is slowly changing.

In July, researchers writing in the scientific journal Nature reported that parts of the Amazon basin now actually emit more CO2 than they absorb.

The situation was particularly problematic in the south-west of the rainforest, in Brazil, said Oksana Tarasova, head of the WMO’s Atmospheric and Environmental Research Department.

The reason for this, she said, was primarily forest clearing, but also forest fires: “It is still a sink, but its capacity is substantially reduced.”

The last time the Earth experienced CO2 concentrations as high as today’s was 3 to 5 million years ago. At that time, the temperature was two to three degrees higher on average than it is today and the sea level some 10 to 20 metres higher.

Unless far tougher emissions targets are implemented, the world is almost certain to miss the Paris climate agreement’s goal of limiting global heating to below 2 or even 1.5 degrees, Taalas warned.

“We are way off track,” Taalas said in a press release. “As long as there are emissions, global temperature will continue to rise.”

The news comes as world leaders prepare to gather in Glasgow on Sunday for the start of the United Nations Climate Change Conference, or COP26, in an attempt to agree on meaningful action to curb global emissions.

The WMO report was a “stark, scientific message for climate change negotiators at COP26,” Taalas said, adding that to reach the 1.5-degree target, the world would have to become climate neutral around by 2070 at the very latest.

Taalas called on the international community to announce new, even tougher climate action at COP26 when it starts on Sunday. “We have no time to lose,” he said.

Source: GNA

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