- Mark McDowell
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Rising Greenhouse Gases in the Air to Bring Stormy Weather
The three gases that contribute the most to global warming rose to their highest levels ever, according to the United Nations (UN). Carbon dioxide, the most significant heat-trapping gas, rose 0.59 percent to 389 parts per million molecules of air, the UN’s World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said. Methane rose 0.28 percent to 1,808 parts per billion; and nitrous oxide gained 0.25 percent to 323.2 parts per billion. Rising greenhouse gas emissions threaten to “close the door” on limiting global temperature rises to two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) during this century, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA).
“Even if we managed to halt our greenhouse-gas emissions today, and this is far from the case, they would continue to linger in the atmosphere for decades to come and so continue to affect the delicate balance of our living planet and our climate,” WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud said.
Unfortunately, the report is bad news for the earth. Climate change will make droughts and floods like those that have battered the United States and other countries in 2011 more frequent, according to a new report, the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The report, that follows a two-year process, suggests that researchers are far more confident about the prospect of more hot weather and heavy rains than they are about how global warming is impacting hurricanes and tornadoes. The new analysis highlights a broader trend: The world is facing a new reality of more extreme weather, as policymakers and business are beginning to adjust.
Gerald Meehl, a senior scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research and one of the report’s reviewers, said it highlights why climate change is more than just a gradual rise in the global temperature reading. “The fact is, a small change in average temperature can have a big impact on extremes,” Meehl said. “It’s pretty straightforward. As average temperatures go up, it’s fairly obvious that heat extremes go up and (the number of) low extremes go down.”
“The time is now for this report,” said University of Illinois climate scientist Don Wuebbles, citing recent studies linking climate change to extreme weather. “Scientific studies such as a report in the journal Nature have linked the deadly 2003 heat wave in Europe to climate change.”
CO2 levels are currently 389 parts per million, an increase from approximately 280 parts per million 250 years ago. According to WMO Deputy Secretary-General Jeremiah Lengoasa, CO2 emissions are to blame for about 80 percent of the rise. But he noted the delay between what is emitted into the atmosphere and its impact on climate. “With this picture in mind, even if emissions were stopped overnight globally, the atmospheric concentrations would continue for decades because of the long lifetime of these greenhouse gases in the atmosphere,” he said.
Representatives from a majority of the world’s nations are gathering to try to agree on how to avoid the worst of the climate disruptions that experts say will result if concentrations hit 450 parts per million. At the present rate, that could happen within several decades, although some climate activists and at-risk nations say the world has already passed the danger point of 350 parts per million and must be undone. According to the WMO, the 2.3 parts per million increase of CO2 in the atmosphere between 2009 and 2010 shows a speeding up when compared with the average 1.5 parts per million increase during the 1990s. Since 1750, the WMO says, atmospheric concentrations of CO2 have jumped 39 percent; nitrous oxide has gone up 20 percent; and methane concentrations soared 158 percent. Fossil fuel-burning, loss of forests that absorb CO2 and fertilizer use are the primary culprits.
Earlier this year, BP released data showing that global carbon dioxide emissions grew at their fastest rate since 1969 in 2010, as nations recovered from economic recession. According to the WMO, greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere rose by 1.4 percent last year from 2009 and 29 percent since 1990. The WMO measured the global amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, gathered from monitors in more than 50 nations, including natural emissions and absorption processes – known as sources and sinks – as well as human activity.
The WMO noted that methane is increasing following a brief period of “relative stabilization” between 1999 and 2006. “Scientists are conducting research into the reasons for this, including the potential role of the thawing of the methane-rich Northern permafrost and increased emissions from tropical wetlands.”