Carbon dioxide levels surged to their highest level in at least 800,000 years because of pollution caused by humans and a strong El Nino event, according to the World Meteorological Organization.
Concentrations of the greenhouse gas increased at a record speed in 2016 to reach an average of 403.3 parts per million, up from 400 parts per million a year earlier, the WMO said on Oct. 30 warning of “severe ecological and economic disruptions.”
The WMO said the last time the Earth had a comparable concentration of CO2s, the temperature of the planet was 2 degrees to 3 degrees Celsius warmer and sea levels were 10 meters to 20 meters higher than now.
“Without rapid cuts in CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions, we will be heading for dangerous temperature increases by the end of this century,” WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas said.
The record increase of 3.3 parts per million of CO2 was due partly to the strong El Nino in 2015 and 2016, which triggered droughts in tropical regions and curbed the ability of forests to absorb the gas, according to WMO. CO2 also comes from burning of fossil fuels for energy and from deforestation for farming and building.
CO2 concentrations were lower than 280 parts per million for the last 800,000 years and have risen since the industrial revolution, according to the geological data that’s gathered from ice cores in Greenland and Antarctica. The report will feed discussion at the annual United Nations-sponsored global warming conference starting in Bonn on Nov. 6.
By Jessica Shankleman