Global GHG levels reach record high

22nd November 2011

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Greenhouse-gas (GHG) levels in the atmosphere are continuing to rise despite governments' pledges to cut emissions, confirm the latest figures from the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO).

According to the seventh report from the WMO’s Global Atmosphere Watch programme, levels of carbon dioxide (CO2), methane and nitrous oxide (N2O) all reached new highs in 2010, while levels of hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) and hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) are increasing rapidly.

The WMO’s figures reveal that levels of carbon dioxide, the greatest contributor to global warming, have now reached 389 parts per million (ppm) and are on the increase. In 2010 levels rose by 2.3ppm from 2009 levels, significantly more than the average annual increase of 2.0ppm/yr during the last decade and 1.5 ppm/yr during the 1990s.

Global levels of N2O, which has almost 300 times the impact on global warming than equal amounts of CO2, has also increased at rates higher than in previous years to reach 323 parts per billion.

The WMO’s report also highlighted the dramatic increase of HFCs and HCFCs in the atmosphere. Introduced in the 1990s to replace ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) in refrigeration units, the WMO warns that while HFCs and HCFCs are less damaging than CFCs they remain potent greenhouse gases in their own right.

“The atmospheric burden of GHGs due to human activities has yet again reached record levels since pre-industrial time,” said WMO secretary-general Michel Jarraud.

“Even if we managed to halt our GHG emissions today – and this is far from the case – 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.”

Friends of the Earth’s executive director Andy Atkins reacted to the figures by calling on governments to come to a global agreement on how to tackle GHGs at Durban next week.

“The world must wake up to the enormous threat we all face and agree tough international action,” he said. “The wealthiest nations must take a lead by agreeing legally-binding cuts to wean their economies off gas, coal and oil – and providing funds for poorer countries to develop cleanly…it’s time for real international leadership.”

However, Atkins’ comments follow reports in the mainstream press that international agreement on a legally-binding follow up to the Kyoto protocol is unlikely before 2016.


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