Greenhouse gases hit record high

Posted by Emma Woollacott

Despite everything, there are now record quantities of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, according to UN agency the World Meteorological Organization.

In its annual bulletin, it says that carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide are now more abundant than at any time since the industrial revolution.

"The atmospheric burden of greenhouse gases due to human activities has yet again reached record levels since pre-industrial time," says WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud.

"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."

Levels of CO2 rose by 2.3 parts per million between 2009 and 2010, hitting 389 parts per million. Nitrous oxide in the atmosphere was found to have hit 323.2 parts per billion in 2010, 20 percent higher than in the pre-industrial era. And, says the WMO, it's had nearly three hundred times as much effect on the climate over the last century as carbon dioxide.

Meanwhile, methane - which had actually been leveling off - is now on the rise again, possibly because of melting permafrost and increased emissions from tropical wetlands.

And between 1990 and 2010, says the WMO, there was a 29 percent  increase in radiative forcing - the warming effect on our climate system - from greenhouse gases. Carbon dioxide accounted for four-fifths of this rise.

"Now more than ever before, we need to understand the complex, and sometimes unexpected, interactions between greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, Earth’s biosphere and oceans," says Jarraud.

"WMO will continue to collect data to further our scientific knowledge through its Global Atmosphere Watch network spanning more than 50 countries, including stations high in the Andes and Himalayas, in the remote expanses of Alaska and in the far South Pacific."