Atmospheric Greenhouse Gas Emissions Hit Record Levels, Report Warns

According to the World Meteorological Organization, the volumes of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere continue to grow. Agriculture emissions are also on the rise.
By Paolo DeAndreis
Nov. 8, 2021 15:54 UTC

The surge in global green­house gas emis­sions in 2021 rep­re­sents a fur­ther threat to inter­na­tional efforts to con­tain Earth’s tem­per­a­ture rise, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) warned.

According to data pre­sented by the WMO at the COP26 inter­na­tional cli­mate sum­mit, emis­sions have now reached new records, top­ping the alarm­ing data reported in the pre­vi­ous year.

Given the long life of car­bon diox­ide, the tem­per­a­ture level already observed will per­sist for sev­eral decades even if emis­sions are rapidly reduced to net zero.- World Meteorologival Organization, 

At the cur­rent rate of increase in green­house gas con­cen­tra­tions, we will see a tem­per­a­ture increase by the end of this cen­tury far in excess of the Paris Agreement tar­gets of 1.5 ºC to 2 ºC above pre-indus­trial lev­els,” said Petteri Taalas, the sec­re­tary-gen­eral of WMO. We are way off track.”

See Also:Climate Coverage

Carbon diox­ide, methane and nitrous diox­ide are among the most rel­e­vant green­house gas emit­ted as a result of human-related activ­i­ties.

The increase in car­bon diox­ide from 2019 to 2020 was slightly lower than that observed from 2018 to 2019 but higher than the aver­age annual growth rate over the last decade,” the WMO wrote in a recent report.

This is despite the approx­i­mately 5.6 per­cent drop in fos­sil fuel car­bon diox­ide emis­sions in 2020 due to restric­tions related to the Covid-19 pan­demic,” they added.

Emissions of both nitrous diox­ide and methane in 2020 were higher than the pre­vi­ous year and both were above the aver­age emis­sions recorded in the pre­vi­ous decade. In 2021, the emis­sions of both gases con­tinue to grow.

The impact of the spe­cific gases on global warm­ing varies con­sid­er­ably depend­ing on their con­cen­tra­tion and dura­bil­ity in the atmos­phere.

Each of these gases can remain in the atmos­phere for dif­fer­ent amounts of time, rang­ing from a few years to thou­sands of years,” the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency wrote in a note.

All of these gases remain in the atmos­phere long enough to become well mixed, mean­ing that the amount that is mea­sured in the atmos­phere is roughly the same all over the world, regard­less of the source of the emis­sions,” they added.

According to WMO, car­bon diox­ide is the most dan­ger­ous of all green­house gases due to its long-last­ing dura­bil­ity in the atmos­phere.

See Also:U.S., Europe Announce Plans to Dramatically Cut Methane Emissions

Boosted by fos­sil fuel com­bus­tion and cement pro­duc­tion, the WMO said car­bon diox­ide is respon­si­ble for at least 66 per­cent of the global warm­ing effect. The agency esti­mates that in 2020, this gas con­cen­tra­tion in the atmos­phere had risen to 149 per­cent above pre-indus­trial lev­els. Methane was up 262 per­cent and nitrous oxide 123 per­cent.

While methane and nitrous oxide are pro­duced by sev­eral dif­fer­ent human-related activ­i­ties, live­stock and fer­til­izer pro­duc­tion are among the main sources of both green­house gases.

Global human-induced nitrous oxide emis­sions, which are dom­i­nated by nitro­gen addi­tions to crop­lands, increased by 30 per­cent over the past four decades,” the WHO said. Agriculture, owing to the use of nitro­gen fer­til­iz­ers and manure, con­tributes 70 per­cent of all anthro­pogenic nitrous oxide emis­sions. This increase was mainly respon­si­ble for the growth in the atmos­pheric bur­den of nitrous oxide.”

As long as emis­sions con­tinue, global tem­per­a­ture will con­tinue to rise,” they added. Given the long life of car­bon diox­ide, the tem­per­a­ture level already observed will per­sist for sev­eral decades even if emis­sions are rapidly reduced to net zero.”

Alongside ris­ing tem­per­a­tures, this means more weather extremes includ­ing intense heat and rain­fall, ice melt, sea-level rise and ocean acid­i­fi­ca­tion, accom­pa­nied by far-reach­ing socioe­co­nomic impacts,” they added.

Taalas said that the last time the Earth expe­ri­enced a com­pa­ra­ble con­cen­tra­tion of car­bon diox­ide was three to five mil­lion years ago when the tem­per­a­ture was 2 ºC or 3 °C warmer and sea level was 10 or 20 meters higher than now.”

At the time, Taalas con­cluded, there weren’t 7.8 bil­lion peo­ple [on the planet].”


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