Ahead of the annual UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) on 31 October, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) on Monday warned that the world is "way off-track" in containing global temperature rise with the concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2), the most important greenhouse gas, reaching 413.2 parts per million in 2020. This is 149% of the pre-industrial level.
Speaking at the presentation of this year’s “Greenhouse Gas Bulletin” at the United Nations in Geneva, Prof. Petteri Taalas, WMO Secretary-General of the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) said that “we have again broken records in main greenhouse gases; carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide, and this negative trend that we have been observing in all reports for decades has continued also this year.”
WMO’s annual flagship report on concentrations of heat-trapping greenhouse gases in the atmosphere stated that as long as emissions continue, global temperature will continue to rise. Given the long life of CO2, 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.
At the current rate of increase in greenhouse gas concentrations, so WMO, the world will see a temperature increase by the end of this century far in excess of the Paris Agreement targets of 1,5 to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.
“We need to mitigate emissions, there is no way around it. We need to reduce emissions as fast as possible”, said Oksana Tarasova, WMO’s chief of Atmospheric and Environment Research Division. She added that “when countries are taking commitments to be carbon neutral, (the) atmosphere gives us a very clear signal that our commitments should be converted in something which we can see in the atmosphere. If we do not see our - let's say at least the decreasing growth rate of the major greenhouse gases - we cannot actually declare the success in climate agenda. We are making measurements and we are providing objective information on what is going on in the atmosphere, so commitments should be followed by the actions.”
A new striking information in this year’s greenhouse gas bulletin is the scientific proof that the south-western part of the Amazonian rainforest has developed from a carbon sink to a producer of carbon.
“We have already seen some alarming indications that for example the Amazonian rainforest ecosystem it used to be a major sink of carbon has become now a source of carbon which is alarming, and this is related to deforestation in the area and also changes in local climate because of this deforestation and also higher temperatures which are favoring evaporation”, Mr. Taalas said.
Co2 is the single most important greenhouse gas in the atmosphere, accounting for approximately 66 % of the warming effect on the climate, mainly because of fossil fuel combustion and cement production. Roughly half of the CO2 emitted by human activities today remains in the atmosphere. The other half is taken up by oceans and land ecosystems.
“It is clear from science that these concentrations of greenhouse gases, they are driving climate change and if we are able to mitigate those emissions, we could phase out the negative trend in climate around 2060”, Mr. Taalas said. “So that is our aim, but we have also some parameters, some features that will continue for even hundreds of years and that means the melting of snow and ice and melting of glaciers and a related sea level rise. So, we have already reached such a high concentration of carbon dioxide that the problem does not go away fairly, fairly soon”.
Carbon dioxide remains in the atmosphere for centuries and in the ocean for even longer. Many countries are setting carbon neutral targets and it is hoped that COP 26 will bring an increase in commitments.
According to WMO’s chief, “we have all the technical means to convert our energy systems, our transport systems and most of the industry systems to become climate friendly. And also we have the financial resources to reach that but, so far, the progress has been too slow”.