Humanity Has Entered New Climate Reality Era

By Alex Kirby

Humanity has now entered a new climate reality era, with carbon dioxide concentrations expected to remain above the level of 400 parts per million throughout 2016 and for many generations to come, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said.

The WMO—the United Nations system's leading agency on weather, climate and water—said the globally averaged concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere reached "the symbolic and significant milestone of 400 parts per million" for the first time in 2015 and surged again to new records in 2016 on the back of the very powerful El Niño event.

CO2 levels reached the 400 ppm barrier for certain months during 2015 and in certain places, but they have never done so on a global average basis for the entire year. The WMO says in its annual Greenhouse Gas Bulletin that the growth spurt in CO2 was fueled by El Niño, which started in 2015 and had a strong impact well into this year.

This, it says, triggered droughts in tropical regions and reduced the capacity of "sinks" like forests, vegetation and the oceans to absorb CO2. These sinks currently absorb about half of CO2 emissions, but there is a risk that they could become saturated, increasing the proportion of carbon dioxide which stays in the atmosphere.

Between 1990 and 2015, the bulletin says, there was a 37 percent increase in radiative forcing—the warming effect on the climate—because of long-lived greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide from industrial, agricultural and domestic activities.

"The year 2015 ushered in a new era of optimism and climate action with the Paris climate change agreement. But it will also make history as marking a new era of climate change reality with record high greenhouse gas concentrations," said WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas. "The El Niño event has disappeared. Climate change has not."

"The real elephant in the room is carbon dioxide, which remains in the atmosphere for thousands of years and in the oceans for even longer. Without tackling CO2 emissions, we cannot tackle climate change and keep temperature increases to below 2 C above the pre-industrial era," added Taalas.

"It is therefore of the utmost importance that the Paris agreement does indeed enter into force well ahead of schedule on Nov. 4 and that we fast-track its implementation," said Taalas.

The Greenhouse Gas Bulletin provides a scientific base for decision-making and the WMO has released it ahead of the UN climate change negotiations to be held in the Moroccan city of Marrakech from Nov. 7-18. They will be seeking to translate the agreement into an effective way of coping with the new climate reality era the WMO has identified.

The bulletin says the pre-industrial level of about 278 ppm of CO2 represented a balance between the atmosphere, the oceans and the biosphere. Human activities, such as the burning of fossil fuels, have altered the natural balance and in 2015 globally averaged levels were 144 percent of pre-industrial levels. The increase of CO2 from 2014 to 2015 was larger than the previous year and the average over the previous 10 years.

The bulletin says the last El Niño, as well as reducing the capacity of vegetation to absorb CO2, led to an increase in CO2 emissions from forest fires. According to the Global Fire Emissions Database, CO2 emissions in equatorial Asia—where there were serious forest fires in Indonesia in August-September 2015—were more than twice as high as the 1997-2015 average.

Drought also has a big impact on CO2 absorption by vegetation and scientists saw similar effects during the 1997-98 El Niño.

Methane is the second most important long-lived greenhouse gas and contributes about 17 percent of radiative forcing. About 40 percent of methane is emitted into the atmosphere by natural sources like wetlands and termites, with the rest coming from human activities like cattle breeding, rice growing, fossil fuel exploitation, landfills and biomass burning.

Atmospheric methane reached a new high of about 1,845 parts per billion in 2015 and is now 256 percent of its pre-industrial level. Nitrous oxide's atmospheric concentration in 2015 was about 328 parts per billion, 121 percent of pre-industrial levels.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Climate News Network.

Show Comments ()

Skylines to Switch Off as Millions Connect to the Planet to Celebrate Earth Hour 2018

On Saturday, March 24 at 8:30 p.m. local time, skylines around the world will go dark as millions celebrate WWF's Earth Hour to spark global awareness and action on nature and the environment.

From the Eiffel Tower to the Empire State Building, and the Bird's Nest stadium to Burj Khalifa, thousands of landmarks will switch off their lights in solidarity for the planet, urging individuals, businesses and governments worldwide to move forward the conversations and solutions we need to build a healthy, sustainable future for all.

Keep reading... Show less
Save Ohio's Bobcat's is working to oppose a proposed trapping season for the recently-threatened feelines. Save Ohio's Bobcats

Concerned Ohioans Unite Against Bobcat Trapping Plan

Environmental activists, science educators and the Athens Ohio City Council are teaming up against a controversial new proposal by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Wildlife (ODNRDOW) to open a bobcat trapping season in the southeastern part of the state, The New Political reported Wednesday.

Keep reading... Show less
Industrial agribusiness is destroying our most precious natural resource—water. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services

From 'Sea to Shining Sea,' Industrial Ag Fouls America's Waterways

By Katherine Paul

A citizen-led group in Nebraska is fighting Costco's plan to build a huge chicken factory farm operation that residents in nearby cities say would pollute their drinking water.

Residents of Devils Lake, North Dakota, along with members of the Spirit Lake Nation Tribe are battling plans to build a hog CAFO in a neighboring community. They say the operation would pollute Devils Lake and area wetlands.

Keep reading... Show less
Plastic samples collected from the Great Pacific garbage patch. The Ocean Cleanup

Great Pacific Garbage Patch Is Now Twice the Size of Texas

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch (GPGP) floating off the coast of California now measures 1.6 million square kilometers (about 1 million square miles), according to a startling new study. To put that into perspective, the clump of trash is about the size of three Frances, or twice the size of Texas.

Not only that, the analysis, published Thursday in the journal Scientific Reports, also revealed that the massive Pacific trash vortex contains up to 16 times more plastic than previous estimates—and could rapidly get worse.

Keep reading... Show less
Sulfide chimneys coated with iron-based microbial mat at Urashima Vent. Deep sea hydrothermal vents like these are targeted for mining. NOAA / Flickr

Deep Sea Mining Decisions: Approaching the Point of No Return

By Sebastian Losada

Over the last two weeks, the International Seabed Authority (ISA) has been in discussions in Jamaica. Its mission—to work towards the finalization of exploitation regulations, a so-called mining code, that will allow commercial deep sea mining operations to begin all around the world.

In the quest for minerals, deep seabed mining means to extend mining activities into the deep ocean. The coming two years are critical in the opening—or not—of this unnecessary new frontier of resource exploitation.

Keep reading... Show less

One Mom’s Campaign to Save the Swimmers

By Stacy Malkan

"I want grandkids one day, so sperm is important to me because I've got three young boys," said mom, author and social media genius Leah Segedie in a video introducing her "Save the Swimmers" campaign.

"This is where my youngest rolls his eyes at me and says, 'I know Mom. Avoiding plastics can help save my swimmers, oooh kay.' But to me this is no laughing matter. Over 25 years of studies have demonstrated that these little sperm are crying out for help."

Keep reading... Show less

Can Food-Focused Medicine Cure Food-Related Disease?

By Julie Wilson

So-called "modern" food, produced through industrialized, chemical-intensive farming practices, is causing a host of chronic, hard-to-diagnose and hard-to-treat health problems in children and adults, say Michelle Perro, MD and Vincanne Adams, PhD, authors of What's Making Our Children Sick?

Keep reading... Show less
Protest against Arctic oil at Statoil commissioned rig in Norway. Greenpeace

'Kayaktivists' Board Rig Set to Drill Arctic

Peaceful "kayaktivists" from Greenpeace Norway boarded a Statoil-contracted rig set to drill two Arctic wells this year.

Two people boarded the rig at the Skipavik yard on Norway's west coast Thursday morning and have requested a meeting with the rig's captain.

Keep reading... Show less


The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!