Greenhouse gases in Earth’s atmosphere hit record highs in 2021

The amount of carbon dioxide and two other greenhouse gases in Earth’s atmosphere hit record highs last year, the World Meteorological Organization said in a report released Wednesday.

Carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide are the three main greenhouse gases responsible for trapping heat in the atmosphere and driving global warming. The latest WMO Greenhouse Gas Bulletin, published annually, found that concentrations of all three gases hit new highs last year, a worrying trend and a sign that the world is not doing enough. to combat climate change.

“The WMO Greenhouse Gas Bulletin once again highlighted the enormous challenge – and the vital need – for urgent action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and prevent a further rise in global temperatures in the future. “, said Petteri Taalas, secretary general of the WMO in a statement.

According to the report, the increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide from 2020 to 2021 was greater than the average annual growth rate over the past decade. The WMO also said that last year’s rise in methane levels was the biggest jump year-on-year since such measurements began nearly 40 years ago.

Measurements of carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide in 2021 were all above pre-industrial levels, “before human activities began to disrupt the natural balance of these gases in the atmosphere,” the WMO said.

Carbon dioxide concentrations, in particular, are closely monitored as an indicator of how humans are affecting the Earth’s climate. Burning fossil fuels releases carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that trap heat in the atmosphere.

A separate report released Wednesday by the United Nations warned that the world “is nowhere near” to meeting its greenhouse gas emission reduction targets, with the planet on track to see temperatures soar to 2.5 degrees Celsius. 4.5 Fahrenheit) above the pre-industrial averages of the end of the century.

The cooling towers of a lignite-fired power plant in Neurath, Germany on January 17, 2022. (Ina Fassbender / AFP via Getty Images)

World leaders will gather in Egypt in less than two weeks for the United Nations Climate Change Conference, known as COP27, or the 27th “Conference of the Parties” under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

This year’s meeting, which opens on 6 November, will involve negotiations between countries on how to achieve their emission reduction targets, which adaptation efforts to focus on, and how to provide funding to countries least responsible for global warming and most affected by climate change.

The WMO report adds urgency to the talks. It found that carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere last year reached 415.7 parts per million, meaning that for every million gas molecules in the atmosphere, more than 415 were carbon dioxide.

In 2020, the planet enjoyed a temporary reduction in carbon emissions due to the coronavirus blockade around the world, but the WMO said there are indications that global carbon dioxide levels are continuing to rise this year. .

The report also found that concentrations of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, were 1,908 parts per billion last year and that nitrous oxide concentrations reached 334.5 parts per billion.

According to the researchers, human activities, including agriculture, coal mining, and oil and gas production, account for about 60% of global methane emissions. While it’s unclear why methane concentrations increased significantly last year, the WMO said the increase appears to be the result of “both biological and human-induced processes.”

Nitrous oxide is the third largest contributor to climate change after methane and carbon dioxide. Agriculture, industrial activities, the burning of fossil fuels and other human activities account for approximately 43% of nitrous oxide emissions.

The WMO said greenhouse gas concentrations increased slightly more last year than in 2019-2020, faster than the average annual growth rate over the past decade.

The agency’s report uses data from a network known as the Global Atmosphere Watch, which measures greenhouse gases and atmospheric composition.

Taalas said the report’s findings indicate that “time is running out”.

“The continued rise in concentrations of major heat-trapping gases, including record acceleration of methane levels, shows that we are heading in the wrong direction,” he said in the statement.

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