Atmospheric CO2 Reaches Record Level

by Adassa Coimin


The U.N. World Meteorological Organization (WMO) reports in its annual Greenhouse Gas Bulletin that the rate at which CO2 continues to increase in concentration in the atmosphere was 50 percent higher than the average of the past 10 years, in 2016. The report estimated that average concentrations of CO2 hit 403.3 parts per million last year (ppm), compared to the 4000 ppm in 2015.

The chief of WMO’s global atmosphere watch program, Dr. Oksana Tarasova, comments by saying, “It is the largest increase we have ever seen in the 30 years we have had this network.” This increase has also led to an unprecedented level of CO2 concentration, not seen in millions of years.

According to BBC News, the largest increase was in the previous El Niño, in year 1997-1998, and it was 2.7 ppm then. Now it is 3.3. Over the past 70 years, the changes in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere are nearly 100 times larger than it was at the end of the last ice age. According to the Economic Times, this growth rate puts CO2 levels, 45 percent higher than or above pre-industrial levels.

The WMO states that human emissions from sources like fossil fuels, cement, and deforestation as well as the weather conditions produced from the El Niño in 2016, further elevated CO2 concentration; “Globally averaged concentrations of CO2 reached 403.3 parts per million (ppm) in 2016, up from 400.00 ppm in 2015 because of a combination of human activities and a strong El Niño event,” as stated in the report.

What is El Niño?

El Niño Southern Oscillation is a phenomenon that causes there to be a warming of the ocean surface, with above average sea surface temperatures (SST) in the central and eastern tropical Pacific Ocean. During an El Niño year, warm water is concentrated in the eastern tropical parts of the Pacific Ocean, along the coasts of South America, while the western parts of the Pacific ocean remain dry and often experience drought conditions.

According to NASA, during an El Niño year, concentrations of greenhouse gases, such as methane and carbon dioxide rise significantly. El Niño impacts the amount of carbon in the atmosphere by causing droughts that decrease plant growth and ultimately limit the uptake of CO2 by plants and trees in the west Pacific. Wildfires caused by dry conditions release extensive amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

These findings have increased the urgency felt about global pollution and the environment, as well as the need for the meeting in Bonn, the UN Climate Change Conference, that occurred in November. These finding also intensify the tension felt about President Trump’s plan to remove the United States from the Paris climate pact.  

The Paris climate agreement from 2015 was essentially a pact formed between world leaders where they agreed to limit the amount of greenhouse gases that their countries produced, in an effort to combat against climate change and global warming. The Bonn meeting from last month was an attempt to set up the guidelines and procedures that would make it easier to measure the progress and affirm the countries’ allegiance.

This graphic shows the the patterns and effects in El Nino occurrences.