According to the United Nations weather agency, global levels of carbon,
methane and nitrous oxide are higher than they have ever been and they continue to accelerate. Atmospheric carbon (CO2) is the leading heat trapping greenhouse gas (GHG) and the primary cause of climate change. There is more atmospheric carbon on earth today than there has been for almost a million years. The last time the planet experienced carbon levels of this magnitude sea levels were much higher than they are today.
The UN World Meteorological Organization’s (WMO) annual Greenhouse Gas Bulletin shows that between 1990 and 2012 there was a 32 percent increase in radiative forcing due to carbon and other GHGs. Carbon is generated primarily by the fossil fuel emissions of cars and smokestacks and it accounted for 80 percent of this increase. About half of the carbon we produce remains in the atmosphere for up to 100 years, the rest is absorbed by the oceans and the biosphere. When carbon is absorbed by the oceans it causes acidification which is highly destructive to coral and other marine ecosystems.
Rising levels of GHGs are attributable to human activity. Prior to the dawn of the industrial revolution atmospheric carbon levels were 278 parts per million (ppm). In 2011 global carbon levels were 391.9 ppm in 2012 they rose to 393.1 ppm. The upper safe limit of atmospheric carbon is about 350 ppm. In some places like the Arctic measures of carbon levels have already exceeded the 400 ppm.
Since the start of the industrial era in 1750, the global average concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere has increased by 141 percent, methane by 260 percent and nitrous oxide by 120 percent.
The total radiative forcing by all long-lived greenhouse gases in 2012 corresponds to CO2e concentrations of 475.6 parts per million, compared to 473.0 parts per million in 2011.
Rising levels of GHGs are trapping heat in the atmosphere and causing the earth to warm. If we continue with business as usual global average temperatures may be 4.6 degrees higher than pre-industrial levels by the end of the century. The result will be catastrophic and will include rising sea levels, melting permafrost, vanishing polar ice, disappearing glaciers and extreme weather.
Even if we stopped pumping GHGs into the atmosphere today, climate change will persist for centuries.
“Limiting climate change will require large and sustained reductions of greenhouse gas emissions. We need to act now, otherwise we will jeopardize the future of our children, grandchildren and many future generations,” said WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud. “Time is not on our side,” he added.
© 2013, Richard Matthews. All rights reserved.
The EIA’s Emissions Analysis by US States
Report on Global Emissions Reduction
The Way Forward on US Emissions Reductions
Global Fossil Fuel Emissions Data for 2011 from the CDIAC
US Demands Emissions Reductions from China and India
World Resources Institute Warning About New Coal Plants
Canada is a World Leader in GHG Emissions
Canada’s GHG Rankings
Businesses Need to Do More to Reduce Emissions
10 Leading Wind Energy Countries
Carbon Rankings from the Environmental Investment Organization
North America 300 Carbon Ranking 2011
Global 800 Carbon Ranking 2011