According to the World Meteorological Organization, levels of heat-trapping greenhouse gases in the atmosphere have reached yet another new record high. Globally averaged concentrations of carbon dioxide reached 407.8 parts per million in 2018, up from 405.5 parts per million in 2017.
The increase year-over-year was similar to that from 2016 to 2017, and remains a little over the average for the last decade. Global CO2 levels crossed the 400 parts per million threshold in 2015.
Concentrations of methane and nitrous oxide also increased by higher amounts than the average for the past decade, based on observations from the Global Atmosphere Watch network with stations all over the globe.
Since 1990, there has been a 43% increase in total radiative forcing – which is the warming effect on the climate from long-lived greenhouse gases. Carbon dioxide accounts for about 80% of this. The report notes that the last time the Earth experienced this high a level of CO2 was 3 to 5 million years ago. At that time, global temperatures were 2 to 3 Celsius degrees higher and sea levels were 30 to 60 feet higher than now.
The report includes data on the isotopic analysis of the CO2 in the atmosphere. CO2 produced by fossil fuel combustion comes from plant material from millions of years ago and does not contain radiocarbon, that is, carbon-14. CO2 from natural sources contains radiocarbon produced by cosmic rays. The increasing CO2 levels in the atmosphere contain decreasing levels of radiocarbon, indicating that the overall increase is largely due to human activities.
Overall, global efforts to date to reduce emissions have not been very successful, and this is borne out by the growing levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
Photo courtesy of Flickr.