Atmospheric GHG at new high

12th December 2011


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The amount of greenhouse gases (GHGs) in the atmosphere reached a new high in 2010 and the rate of increase has accelerated, according to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO).

The WMO reports that between 1990 and 2010, there was a 29% increase in the warming effect on the global climate system from GHGs, with carbon dioxide accounting for 80% of the rise. It says that between 2009 and 2010 the abundance of CO2 in the atmosphere increased by 2.3 parts per million (ppm), higher than the average for the past decade (2ppm).

Researchers also note that after stabilising between 1999 and 2006, methane concentrations in the atmosphere are again rising, possibly because of a thawing of the methane-rich Northern permafrost.

Methane is a much more potent GHG than CO2. The atmospheric burden of nitrous oxide in 2010 was 323.2 parts per billion (ppb), says the WMO, which is 20% higher than in the pre-industrial era. It has grown at an average of about 0.75ppb over the past 10 years.

“Even if we managed to halt our GHG emissions today they would continue to linger in the atmosphere for decades to come and so continue to affect the delicate balance of our living planet and our climate,” said WMO secretary-general Michel Jarraud.

The prospects for reducing atmospheric CO2 concentrations appear to be dwindling with the International Energy Agency (IEA) warning that the world is at risk of locking itself into an insecure, inefficient and high-carbon energy system. It forecasts that primary energy demand will rise by one-third between 2010 and 2035.

Although the IEA predicts that the overall share of fossil fuels in global primary energy consumption will fall from around 81% today to 75% in 2035, and renewable energy will increase from 13% to 18%, the use of coal is forecast to grow by 65% over the same period, while gas use is expected to catch up with coal consumption.

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