Written By: Natalie Baer
The atmospheric greenhouse gas emissions responsible for the warming effect on our climate reached a record high in 2012, according to UN data.
This week’s Annual Greenhouse Gas Bulletin, published by the UN World Meteorological Organization (WMO), includes data showing that greenhouse gas emissions are on an upward and accelerating trend.
Between 1990 and 2012, there was a 34% increase in radiative forcing—meaning that the warming effect on our climate is increasing due to increases in heat-trapping long-lived gases such as methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O). Carbon dioxide (CO2) accounts for 80% of this increase.
Between 2011 and 2012, growth of these emissions accelerated, with levels above the average for the previous decade. Furthermore, the rate for 2013 appears to be even higher.
Since 1750, the average total global concentration of atmospheric CO2 has increased by 41%. Meanwhile, methane has risen by 160% and nitrous oxide by 20%.
The growth in worldwide emissions comes from burning fossil fuels, driving cars, and other human activities. Emission levels are currently several billion tons higher than required to keep global warming to below 2oC, the amount climate scientists warn that breeching will create catastrophic impacts.
“The observations from WMO’s extensive Global Atmosphere Watch network highlight yet again how heat-trapping gases from human activities have upset the natural balance of our atmosphere and are a major contribution to climate change”, says WMO secretary-general Michel Jarraud.
He continues, “The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), in its recent 5th Assessment Report, stressed that atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide have increased to levels unprecedented in at least the last 800,000 years.
“As a result, our climate is changing, our weather is more extreme, ice sheets and glaciers are melting, and sea levels are rising. Limiting climate change will require large and sustained reductions [in] greenhouse gas emissions. We need to act now; otherwise we will jeopardize the [futures] of our children, grandchildren, and many [later] generations.”
Also recognizing the need to change emissions levels is this week’s United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Emissions Gap Report. The report warns that even if nations meet their current climate change pledges, greenhouse gas emissions in 2020 will likely push global warming above a 2oC increase.