UN climate experts announce record CO2 surge in 2016

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Air pollution from an old coal-fired power plant in Kosovo. Photo: World Bank/Lundrim Aliu

Levels of carbon dioxide surged at "record-breaking speed" to new highs in 2016, UN climate experts said on Monday.

The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) issued the warning in Geneva, at the launch of the organisation's Greenhouse Gas Bulletin.

The report indicates that carbon dioxide concentrations reached 403.3 parts per million in 2016, up from 400 ppm in 2015.

Daniel Johnson has more.

WMO head Petteri Taalas told journalists that it was time for governments to fulfil the pledges they made in Paris in 2015 to take steps to reduce global warming.

We have never seen such a large increase in carbon dioxide concentration over the course of a single year, he said.

"And this is demonstrating that we are not moving in the right direction at all, in fact we are actually moving in the wrong direction when we think about the implementation of the Paris Agreement and this all demonstrates that there is some urgent need to raise the ambition level of climate mitigation, if we are serious with this 1.5 to 2C target of Paris Agreement."

The WMO report's findings are based on observations taken around the globe.

It underlines that last year's elevated CO2 levels happened because of a combination of human activities and a strong El Nino event.

The climatic phenomenon is associated with warmer-than-average sea temperatures that is believed to be responsible for triggering droughts in tropical regions, as well as unprecedented hurricanes and wildfires elsewhere.

However, at 3.3 parts per million, the 2016 increase in carbon dioxide levels was significantly higher than an El Nino-influenced spike in 1998, which was measured at 2.7 ppm.

To put that into perspective, WMO says that before the industrial era, a CO2 change of 10 parts per million took between 100 and 200 years to occur.

Oksana Tarasova, Chief of WMO's Atmospheric Environment Research Division, said that current atmospheric changes are "10 to 20 times faster than (has) ever been observed in the history of the planet".

The release of the WMO report coincides with Tuesday's Emissions Gap Report by another UN agency, UN Environment, which tracks how governments are taking steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Together, both publications will serve as a scientific base for policy decisions at the UN climate change negotiations in Bonn, Germany, beginning Monday 7 November.

Daniel Johnson, United Nations, Geneva

Duration: 1’46″


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