Greenhouse gas levels hit new record ‘far in excess’ of Paris targets

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Geneva: Greenhouse gas concentrations hit a new record high last year and increased at a faster rate than the annual average for the past decade despite a temporary reduction during pandemic lockdowns, the World Meteorological Organisation said in a report.
The news came as the United Nations climate office warned that the world remains off target for meeting its goal of cutting emissions as part of international efforts to curb global warming.
A red sun among heavy smoke caused by the fires in the Amazon forest in the state of Rondonia, Brazil, in August 2019.Credit:Joedson Alves
Both announcements came days before the start of a UN climate change conference in Glasgow, Scotland. Many environmental activists, policymakers and scientists say the COP26 event marks an important and even crucial opportunity for concrete commitments to the targets set out in the 2015 Paris climate accord.
“The Greenhouse Gas Bulletin contains a stark, scientific message for climate change negotiators at COP26,” World Meteorological Organisation secretary-general Petteri Taalas said of his agency’s annual report on heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere.
“At the current rate of increase in greenhouse gas concentrations, we will see a temperature increase by the end of this century far in excess of the Paris Agreement targets of 1.5 to 2 degrees … above pre-industrial levels.”
According to the report – released last week –concentrations of carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide were all above levels in the pre-industrial era before 1750, when human activities “started disrupting Earth’s natural equilibrium”.
The report draws on information collected by a network that monitors the amount of greenhouse gases that remain in the atmosphere after some quantities are absorbed by oceans and the biosphere.
In its report, the Geneva-based agency also pointed to signs of a worrying new development: parts of the Amazon rainforest have gone from being a carbon “sink” that sucks carbon dioxide from the air to a source of CO2 due to deforestation and reduced humidity in the region, it said.
“One of the striking messages from our report is that the Amazonian region, which used to be a sink of carbon, has become a source of carbon dioxide,” Taalas said.
“And that’s because of deforestation. It’s because of changes of the global local climate, especially. We have less humidity and less rainfall.”
Petteri Taalas, secretary-general of the World Meteorological Organisation.Credit:AP
Oksana Tarasova, chief of the WMO’s atmospheric and environment research division, said the results showing the Amazon going from sink to source were a first, but he noted they were from a specific south-eastern portion of the Amazon, not the entire rainforest.
The UN climate office said separately last week that its assessment of the formal commitments made by countries that signed up to the Paris accord suggests the world could reduce its emissions by 83-88 per cent by 2050 compared with 2019.
More worryingly, emissions in 2030 are projected to be 16 per cent higher than in 2010, based on formal pledges so far.
“Such an increase, unless changed quickly, may lead to a temperature rise of about 2.7[degrees] by the end of the century,” the UN said.
Experts argued that emissions must halve by 2030 compared with 2010 levels and essentially hit zero by mid-century if the Paris goal of capping global warming at 2 degrees, ideally no more than 1.5 degrees, is to be achieved.
“Overshooting the temperature goals will lead to a destabilised world and endless suffering, especially among those who have contributed the least to the [greenhouse gas] emissions in the atmosphere,” said Patricia Espinosa, who heads the UN climate office.
“We are nowhere near where science says we should be.”
Recent announcements by China and India, the world’s number one and number three emitters, weren’t yet included in the analysis because they had yet to formally submit their targets to the UN.
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