Greenhouse gas emissions hit 'record levels'

Posted: 3 November 2006

Author: Maya Pastakia

The atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide reached their highest levels ever recorded last year, the World Meteorological Organisation reported today.

Carbon dioxide (C02), the second most important gas blamed for global warming, rose from 377.1 parts per million (ppm)¹ in 2004 to 379.1 ppm, a rise of about half a per cent.

Graph showing carbon dioxide emissions 1983 to 2005, WMO.
Graph showing carbon dioxide emissions 1983 to 2005, WMO.
Atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide emissions was 379.1 parts per million (ppm) in 2005, an increase of 2.0 ppm from 2004.
According to the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO), the 35.4 per cent rise in C02 since the 1700s has largely been the result of human activities, primarily the combustion of fossils fuels (currently about 7 Gt carbon per year) and, to a lesser extent, deforestation (0.6-2.5Gt carbon per year).

Emissions from power plants, transportation, aviation are responsible for the increase in atmospheric concentrations which shows no sign of waning, says the WMO.

The latest announcement comes ahead of the Kyoto Protocol negotiations in Nairobi later this month, which seek to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions of the richer nations.

"To make C02 level off, we will need more drastic measures than are in the Kyoto Protocol today," warned Geir Braathen, a WMO senior scientist.

Earlier this week, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) reported that greenhouse gas emissions by industrialised countries revealed a "worrying" upward trend between 2000-2004. Emissions generated by the United States, the world's biggest emitter of greenhouse gases, increased by 1.3 per cent in the same period.

Human impact

After water vapour, carbon dioxide, methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O) are the three greenhouse gases most prevalent in the earth's atmosphere respectively.

Concentrations of N2O also reached record highs in 2005, up almost 2 per cent from 318.6 parts per billion (ppb) to 319.2 ppb, while CH4 levels remained stable at 1783 ppb.

Around one third of N2O emissions are a result of human activities such as fuel combustion, biomass burning, fertilizer use and some industrial processes.

Human activity such as fossil fuel exploitation, rice agriculture, biomass burning, landfills and ruminant farm animals account for some 60 per cent of atmospheric CH4, with natural processes such as those produced by wetlands and termites responsible for the remaining 40 per cent.

Polar bears are losing their icy habitat in the Arctic: Photo: Greenpeace UK
Polar bears are losing their icy habitat in the Arctic: Photo: Greenpeace UK
Polar bears are losing their icy habitat in the Arctic and some scientists predict they will become extinct.(Photo courtesy Greenpeace UK)
Scientists say that human activities generated by fossil fuel burning are causing greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere to increase by trapping the infrared radiation from sun, warming the atmosphere and causing temperatures to rise.

Scientists predict that the effects of global warming will cause the polar ice caps and glaciers to melt, a rise in sea levels, poor crop yields, the spread of diseases such as malaria and dengue fever, and more extreme weather conditions including floods and storms. A recent report by Friends of the Earth warns that the poorer countries in Africa would be hardest hit.

1. In the context of atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases, parts per million (ppm) is the number of molecules of the greenhouse gase per million molecules of air.

Related links:

WMO Greenhouse Gas Bulletin (November 2006)

World Meteorological Organisation

WMO Atmospheric Research and Environment Programme

WMO Global Atmosphere Watch

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