Greenhouse gases hit a new record in 2021

GENEVA (AP) – The three main greenhouse gases reached record levels in the atmosphere last year, the United Nations Meteorological Agency said Wednesday, calling it a “disturbing” sign since the war in Ukraine, the rising costs of food and fuel and other concerns have nudged long-standing concerns about global warming in recent months.

“More bad news for the planet,” the World Meteorological Organization said in a statement alongside its latest annual greenhouse gas bulletin. It is one of several reports published in recent days that examine different aspects of humanity’s fight against climate change ahead of the latest UN climate conference, in Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt.

Of the three main types of heat-trapping greenhouse gases – carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide – the biggest jump from 2020 to 2021 was in methane, whose concentrations in air have seen the largest year-over-year increase since Regular measurements began four decades ago, WMO said.

“The continuing increase in concentrations of major heat-trapping gases, including the record acceleration of methane levels, shows that we are going in the wrong direction,” said WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas.

Methane is more powerful than carbon dioxide in trapping heat, but it doesn’t stay in the atmosphere as long as carbon dioxide, and there is 200 times more carbon dioxide in the air than methane. Over a 20-year period, a methane molecule traps about 81 times the heat of a carbon dioxide molecule, but over a century it is reduced to 28 times more heat per molecule than carbon dioxide, according to the Intergovernmental. Panel on Climate Change.

Since pre-industrial times, which the WMO fixes around the year 1750, CO2 concentrations in the air have increased by nearly 50% to 415.7 parts per million, with the United States, China and Europe responsible for most of the emissions. . Methane rose 162 percent to 1,908 parts per billion, and nitrous oxide, whose man-made sources are things like biomass burning, industrial processes, and fertilizer use, rose about a quarter to 334.5. parts per million.

The UN climate office said on Wednesday that current pledges to reduce greenhouse gas emissions put the planet on track to exceed the global warming limit for countries agreed in the 2015 Paris climate agreement. .

He said his latest estimate based on 193 national emissions targets would see temperatures rise to 2.5 degrees Celsius (4.5 Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial averages by the end of the century, one degree above the ambitious target set. in the Paris Pact to limit warming to 1.5 C (2.7 F).

“We are not yet close to the scale and pace of the emissions reductions needed to get us on track to a world of 1.5 degrees Celsius,” UN Climate Bureau Chief Simon Stiell said in a statement. . “To keep this goal alive, national governments must now strengthen their climate action plans and implement them over the next eight years.”

The report found that emissions will also increase by 10.6% by 2030 from 2010 levels, a slight decrease from last year’s 13.7% estimates.

A report released Wednesday by Climate Action Tracker, which tracks nations’ commitments to reduce warming, found that on 40 indicators for reducing emissions – such as weaning off coal, increasing electric vehicles or reducing deforestation – the world was not on track for any of them to match the levels of emission reductions that scientists believe are necessary to limit warming to 1.5 ° C. More than half of the indicators showed that the world is “well off track” to cut emissions, but added that promising progress has been made.

Climatologists and environmental advocates have raised their voices for years on the impact of climate change, pointing to major climate changes in recent decades such as bushfires in China and the western United States, drought in the Horn of Africa, and unprecedented floods in Pakistan – to name but a few.

CO2 remains the single most important greenhouse gas generated by human activity, mainly from the combustion of fossil fuels and the production of cement, accounting for about two-thirds of the warming effect on climate, known as radiative forcing. Over the past decade, carbon dioxide has been responsible for about four-fifths of the warming effect.

Methane accounts for about more than a sixth of the warming effect, WMO said. Three-fifths of methane reaches the atmosphere through the burps and farts of livestock, the cultivation of rice, the use of fossil fuels, the burning of biomass and landfills; the rest comes from natural sources such as wetlands and termites.

Rob Jackson, who leads the Global Carbon Project, has suggested that methane spikes in the past two years have been “mysterious” – either signs related to the coronavirus pandemic, which temporarily dented emissions, or a sign of “a dangerous acceleration. methane emissions from wetlands and other systems that we have been concerned about for decades ”.

“The concentrations of methane and nitrous oxide are not only increasing, they are increasing faster than ever. While not losing our focus on carbon dioxide, we need to pay more attention to “other” greenhouse gases, “he added.” Fortunately, methane is starting to get the attention it deserves “through initiatives such as the Global Methane Pledge, one closure effort supported, among others, by the United States and the European Union.

Nitrous oxide remains “mostly ignored,” he added.

Taalas, who has been repeating warnings about global warming for years, says the focus should remain on CO2.

“As a top and most pressing priority, we need to reduce carbon dioxide emissions which are the main driver of climate change and associated extreme weather conditions and which will affect the climate for thousands of years through the loss of polar ice, warming of the oceans and sea ​​level rise, “he said.

NASA announced that an instrument on the International Space Station designed to observe mineral dust has proved to be a useful tool for finding “super emitters” of methane from orbit. NASA shared three images showing several mile-long plumes emitting methane.

A group of a dozen leaks from pipelines and other gas infrastructure in Turkmenistan are leaking 55 tons of methane per hour, roughly the same as the notorious 2015 Aliso Canyon leak, drilling in New Mexico that is spewing 18 tons all over the place. is now a landfill in Iran which is emitting 8 tons per hour.

“We’re looking for places where no one is going to look for methane,” said NASA instrument scientist Robert Green. “If it’s there, we’ll see it.”


Science writer Seth Borenstein in Washington and Frank Jordans in Berlin contributed.


The Associated Press’s climate and environmental coverage receives support from several private foundations. Find out more about the AP climate initiative here. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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