Climate-warming gas levels in the atmosphere reached record levels in 2020, despite coronavirus-related blockages, the UN World Meteorological Organization has announced.
The concentration of carbon dioxide, the most important greenhouse gas, is now 50% higher than before the Industrial Revolution triggered the massive burning of fossil fuels. Methane levels have more than doubled since 1750. All key greenhouse gases (GHGs) increased faster in 2020 than the average of the previous decade and this trend has continued in 2021, according to the report of the WMO.
The data shows that the climate crisis continues to worsen and sends a “crude” message to the nations gathered at the Cop26 climate summit in Glasgow within a week, according to WMO chief Professor Petteri Taalas: “We are very out of the way “.
Summit negotiators must act to keep alive the goal of ending GHG emissions by 2050 and avoiding the worst climate impacts. Just stopping emissions will stabilize gas levels and curb temperature rises that cause increasing damage from heat waves, floods and droughts.
“At the current rate of increase in GHG concentrations, we will see an increase in temperature by the end of this century well above the targets of the Paris Agreement from 1.5 ° C to 2 ° C” , said Taalas. “[Rising levels of GHGs] they have great negative repercussions for our daily lives and well-being, and for the future of our children and grandchildren. “
“Cop26 is expected to see a dramatic increase in commitments,” he said. “We need to transform our commitment into actions that have an impact on GHGs. We need to review our industrial, energy and transportation systems and our entire lifestyle: the necessary changes are economically affordable and technically possible. There is no time to waste. “
The combustion of coal, oil and gas is the main source of CO2, which is the cause of 66% of global warming. CO2 emissions fell by about 5% in 2020 due to Covid restrictions, compared to 2019. But many billions of tons of CO2 they were still pumped into the atmosphere, meaning Covid’s economic slowdown “had no perceptible impact on GHG atmospheric levels and their growth rates,” the WMO said.
About half of the CO2 of human activities remains in the atmosphere, with the other half absorbed by the oceans and terrestrial trees and plants. But the WMO warned that global warming is harming the natural world’s ability to absorb emissions with, for example, the Amazon now shifting from absorbing CO2 to emitting it as forest fires, droughts and felling destroy trees.
Methane accounts for 16% of global warming and most of its emissions are caused by human activity such as livestock and fossil fuel production. Methane is a powerful GHG with a relatively short lifespan, so reducing emissions has a rapid impact. Prior to Cop26, the US and EU pledged to reduce methane emissions by 30% by 2030.
The other major GHG is nitrous oxide, which is responsible for 7% of global warming. These emissions come mainly from the excessive use of chemical fertilizers in agriculture and livestock manure. GHG data are collected by the WMO Global Atmosphere Monitoring Program.
Atmospheric GHG levels are higher than ever experienced by the human race, and the highest in 3-5 million years. At that time, the global temperature was 2 to 3ºC higher and the sea level was 10 to 20 meters higher than today, Talaas said: “But there were no 7.8 billion people then.”
“The real success, or failure, of Cop26 will be written in our skies in the form of concentrations of greenhouse gases. This WMO report provides a brutally frank assessment of what has been written so far. So far, it’s an epic failure, ”said Professor Dave Reay of the University of Edinburgh.
“The small window of opportunity to stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations at a level that meets Paris’s climate goals is about to disappear,” he said. “Will this 26th Cop find success where the previous 25 have fallen short? Our atmosphere will be a witness ”.
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