Greenhouse gas concentrations rose to a record

Global greenhouse gas levels set a record in 2022, keeping the planet’s temperatures on a rising trajectory that will blow past the world’s climate targets, the UN’s World Meteorological Organization said in a report on Wednesday.

There is “no end in sight” to growth in greenhouse gas emissions, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) warned, reporting that global concentrations of carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide rose to new highs last year. Emissions of these heat-trapping gases hit records as the planet continued on a trajectory that scientists have said is likely to lead to major and irreversible damage to ecosystems and societies.

“We are seeing new, extremely high levels of the three main gases,” which are driving the rising global temperature and extreme weather events, WMO senior science officer Oksana Tarasova told The Washington Post.

WMO’s data analyzes measurements from 150 observation stations around the globe. The record high greenhouse gas levels in 2022 offer another pressing target ahead of this month’s COP28 climate conference in Dubai. Last year was the planet’s fifth-warmest, according to the EU’s Copernicus Climate Change Service, and carbon dioxide levels and temperatures have continued to rise in 2023.

You’ve just lived through Earth’s hottest 12 months ever

Carbon dioxide accounts for about two-thirds of the warming effect on the climate, making curbing emissions critical to preventing the worst effects of climate change, scientists say.

“Despite decades of warnings from the scientific community, thousands of pages of reports and dozens of climate conferences, we are still heading in the wrong direction,” WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas said in a statement.

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The world is moving ever closer to the warming threshold of 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, and the WMO warned that the planet may be close to tipping points that could have irreversible consequences, such as the extinction of the Amazon rainforest or the destabilization of ice sheets.

The rising concentrations are also pushing the world’s forests and oceans closer to a point where they can stop absorbing the level of emissions that humans depend on them to do, Tarasova said. In Europe, for example, last summer’s drought led to forests absorbing less carbon dioxide, she said, and in parts of the Amazon, the stressed forest has begun to emit it back into the atmosphere.

“All the things that have been accumulated for centuries or millennia, if they start to disappear, you can’t just put them back,” Tarasova told The Post. “The melting of the glaciers or the melting of the ice in the Arctic – you can’t put back glaciers that were accumulated for thousands of years.”

Last year, atmospheric carbon dioxide rose to 150 percent above pre-industrial levels, the WMO said. Methane increased by 16 parts per billion (ppb) during 2021, compared with last year’s increase, and nitrous oxide by 1.4 ppb, a jump that Tarasova called dramatic. Carbon dioxide concentrations increased by 2.2 parts per million (ppm) from 2021 to 2022. The average concentration in 2022 was about 418 ppm, compared to pre-industrial levels between 270 and 280 ppm.

The last time carbon dioxide reached a concentration comparable to 2022 was 3 million to 5 million years ago, according to the WMO.

The growth of carbon dioxide levels in 2022 was slightly lower than in 2021, but WMO researchers attributed this largely to short-term variations in the carbon cycle.

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Climate impacts in the US are ‘widespread and worsening’, federal report finds

The report comes a day after a US federal report warned that the effects of climate change in the US are worsening, even as many governments and communities step up their response. Also on Tuesday, another report found the world is not moving fast enough on the many transformations needed to limit the worst impacts of climate change.

In 2022, the planet suffered extreme weather disasters, including catastrophic flooding in Pakistan, unprecedented heat across Europe and devastating drought in East Africa.

Scientists say the Earth is now warmer than at any time in the last 125,000 years. Last week, scientists said the period from November 2022 to October 2023 was the warmest on record in modern times. And on Wednesday, NOAA said last month was the warmest October on record, and the fifth warmest month in a row. The month’s spate of extreme weather included Hurricane Otis, which devastated parts of Acapulco; Cyclone Lola, which devastated parts of Vanuatu, a South Pacific nation; severe flooding in Ghana; and the drop in Mississippi River levels to record lows for the second year in a row.

The 2022 data underscored that the planet could warm well past the 1.5-degree threshold on its current trajectory, WMO scientists said.

“At the moment it will be quite difficult to keep it at the 1.5 degree limit,” Taalas told a news briefing. “We are heading towards 2.5 or 3 degrees.”

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