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Atmospheric CO2 hits record levels

02 May 2013
Atmospheric CO2 hits record levels

LONDON: Scientists have released data showing atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration has reached a new record level, underlining the urgency of UN climate talks which kicked off again in Bonn this week.

The concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere hit 399.72 parts per million (ppm) for the first time this week and is shortly expected to pass the symbolically important 400 ppm level for the first time in human history.

Carbon dioxide levels were around 280 ppm at the beginning of the industrial revolution in the mid-18th century. A level of 450 ppm has been cited as the highest possible level of atmospheric CO2 that could limit the worst impacts of climate change. However, uncertainty remains about the impact of differing concentration levels, with some scientists and governments arguing that a concentration of 350 ppm – a level already exceeded – is the maximum safe threshold.

The recording of CO2 levels, known as the ‘Keeling Curve’, comes from the US Government’s Earth Systems Research laboratory in Hawaii, which has been monitoring the data for over 50 years. Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego provides daily updates on the measurements.

Ralph Keeling, a Scripps geochemist who took over the Keeling Curve measurement from his late father said: "I wish it weren't true, but it looks like the world is going to blow through the 400-ppm level without losing a beat. At this pace we'll hit 450 ppm within a few decades."

Speaking at the latest round of UN climate talks which are happening at Bonn this week, Christiana Figueres, the Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change said: “We are just about to cross the 400 parts per million threshold, hence this conference meets in a heightened sense of urgency. We must meet the deadlines set by the UNFCCC’s Conference of the Parties. The ADP working group has already used one third of the time allocated, so we must use the remaining time wisely.”

Damian Ryan, Senior Policy Manager, The Climate Group, said: “The impact of hitting the 400 ppm threshold in practical and immediate terms is limited. The world’s climate isn’t going to tip overnight just by moving from 399 ppm to 400. But like breaching any symbolic threshold it should and must act as a wake-up call to political and business leaders. The period through 2020 is critical to putting in place the clear policies and business practices that will drive low carbon innovation and sustainable growth in the coming decades.

"The good news is that we’re already seeing what smart low carbon action can do for economies and companies. We just need to scale this beginning today. 400 ppm may be symbolic, but adding to this milestone and breaking new CO2 records is the last thing that we need.”

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By Clare Saxon


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