In a new report by the World Meteorological Organization, the UN’s meteorology experts, it states that the greenhouse gas emissions that are currently causing global climate breakdown are at an all time high.
The levels of carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide are far above their pre-industrial level counterparts, with seemingly no reversal of their upward trend. In 2017, the levels of CO2 in the atmosphere rose to a global average of 405.5 parts per million, which is 2.5x higher than levels before the industrial revolution. Methane, a gas which has a heating capability 25x that of CO2 and is responsible for around 17% of global warming, now has levels that are 3.5x higher than before the industrial revolution. This rise has mostly been caused by agricultural practices such as large-scale industrial cattle farming.
“The last time the Earth experienced a comparable concentration of CO2 was 3-5m years ago, when the temperature was 2-3C warmer and sea level was 10-20 metres higher than now,” said the WMO secretary general, Petteri Taalas. “The science is clear. Without rapid cuts in CO2 and other greenhouse gases, climate change will have increasingly destructive and irreversible impacts on life on Earth. The window of opportunity for action is almost closed.”
The internationally-ratified Paris Climate Agreement aims to curb the rise of global heating at 2C, yet the more hopeful number is 1.5C. It must however, be stated that this number is itself somewhat arbitrary. It is impossible to say what the actual damage will be at 1.5 or 2C. The recent IPCC Report on the effects of 1.5C of heating, stated that there would be incredibly severe consequences for human life at this level.
This report, with it’s 91 separate authors and review editors from 40 countries, explores “a number of climate change impacts that could be avoided by limiting global warming to 1.5ºC compared to 2ºC, or more. For instance, by 2100, global sea level rise would be 10 cm lower with global warming of 1.5°C compared with 2°C. The likelihood of an Arctic Ocean free of sea ice in summer would be once per century with global warming of 1.5°C, compared with at least once per decade with 2°C. Coral reefs would decline by 70-90 percent with global warming of 1.5°C, whereas virtually all (> 99 percent) would be lost with 2ºC.”
“Every extra bit of warming matters, especially since warming of 1.5ºC or higher increases the risk associated with long-lasting or irreversible changes, such as the loss of some ecosystems,” said Hans-Otto Pörtner, Co-Chair of IPCC Working Group II.
“Every fraction of a degree of global warming matters, and so does every part per million of greenhouse gases,” said the WMO deputy secretary general, Elena Manaenkova. “CO2 remains in the atmosphere for hundreds of years and in the oceans for even longer. There is currently no magic wand to remove all the excess CO2 from the atmosphere.”
To negate this rise in emission levels, collective action needs to be put in place, such as investing in low-carbon or carbon neutral technologies; wind and solar energy needs to become rapidly mainstream. Pressure needs to be put on multinationals, whose business practices are responsible for a large percentage of global emissions.
Fortunately, it is becoming an increasingly poignant issue for people, with environmental demonstrations and campaigns taking place all over the world. On Wednesday the Yearbook of Global Climate Action 2018 was published, finding that 9,000 cities in 128 countries had committed to some sort of climate action. This is alongside 240 states and regions in 40 other countries, and more than 6,000 businesses.
“On one hand, greenhouse gas emissions have yet to peak and countries struggle to maintain the concentrated attention and effort needed for a successful response to climate change. On the other hand, climate action is occurring, it is increasing and there is a will to do more. I highlight this because falling into despair and hopelessness is a danger equal to complacency, none of which we can afford.”, said Patricia Espinosa, head of the UN framework convention on climate change.