Neither the pandemic nor the current plans to combat climate change have had a decisive impact on the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and this accumulation has reached levels never seen by humans. To find a concentration of carbon dioxide (CO₂) similar to the current one, you have to go back between three and five million years, according to Petteri Taalas, secretary general of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). This international agency presented its newsletter on Monday on the evolution of the three main gases that contribute to increasing the earth’s greenhouse effect: the aforementioned CO₂, methane and nitrous oxide. The main conclusion is that despite the pandemic, the presence of all three in the atmosphere increased by 2020. This 2021 does not seem to be an exception in the trend of continuous growth that has been registered since the Industrial Revolution, when human beings began to use the fossil fuels that they mainly release on a massive scale. these gases.
In the case of CO₂, around half of the emissions from human activities accumulate in the atmosphere. The other half are trapped by natural sinks: mainly forests and oceans. But the World Meteorological Organization has issued a serious warning: these ecosystems may lose their effectiveness in the future due to extreme events linked to climate change or the increase in forest fires. This could lead to higher concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and therefore the level of global warming.
In the annual WMO bulletin, which this year meets its 17 edition, the case of the Amazon is analyzed. It is highlighted that a part of this region has gone from being a sink to a source of carbon emissions. If the problem with land and sea sinks is accentuated by the loss of their capacity to absorb carbon dioxide, things would get even more complicated to comply with the Paris Agreement. This treaty, signed in 2015, sets as a global objective to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in such a way that the increase in temperature at the end of the century remains between 1.5 and 2 degrees compared to pre-industrial levels – currently warming is already 1.1 degrees -.
The concentration of CO₂ in the atmosphere reached 2020 the 413, 2 parts per million (ppm). This represents a 48, 6% more than at pre-industrial levels ―in 1750 the concentration was 278 ppm—. This gas is the main responsible for climate change and contributes approximately 66% to warming. The trend has continued for 2021; in July it was recorded at the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii, 416, 96 ppm, versus 414, 62 ppm July 2020.
In the case of nitrous oxide, a powerful greenhouse gas that also depletes the ozone layer, concentrations in the atmosphere reached last year at 333, 2 parts per billion (ppb), a 23% more than pre-industrial levels. The third of the gases analyzed by the WMO is methane, whose presence in the atmosphere reached 2020 1 o’clock. 889 parts per billion (ppb), which is 162% more than before the Industrial Revolution.
Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas that remains in the atmosphere for about a decade. It is responsible for around 25% of global warming and many experts and governments have put it in the spotlight of the fight against global warming. The United States and the European Union are scheduled to present at the Glasgow climate summit (COP 26) which begins this Sunday a proposal for a global agreement to reduce its emissions by 30% in 2030 compared to levels of 2020.
But the main target in the fight against the climate crisis remains carbon dioxide, which is less potent than methane , but it has a greater presence in the atmosphere and lasts much longer. The objective of climate negotiations such as those that begin in a week in Glasgow is to seek compromises and formulas to end CO₂ emissions that then end up in the atmosphere and sinks.
Petteri Taalas has recalled this Monday that humanity is “very far from the path marked” by the Paris Agreement. “If the current rate of increase in greenhouse gas concentrations is maintained, the increase in temperature at the end of this century will far exceed the target set under the Paris Agreement of limiting global warming to 1.5 o 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels ”, he stated in a statement.
Many nations are announcing that they will reach zero net emissions by mid-century. The last big countries to do it have been Russia and Saudi Arabia, both have set themselves 2060 to achieve it – 10 years after what was announced by Europe or the United States. But the problem is that in order to achieve those goals by mid-century, immediate cutback plans are needed for this decade. And many countries do not have compelling programs, as has been seen with most economic recovery plans after lockdowns by the pandemic. “We must crystallize those ambitions into actions that bring about change when it comes to the gases that drive climate change. We must transform our industrial, energy and transport systems and our entire lifestyle ”, said Taalas this Monday.
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