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Greenhouse Gases Have Soared to Record Levels: WMO

For related articles and more information, please visit OCA's Environment and Climate Resource Center page.

The amount of planet-warming greenhouse gases in the atmosphere reached a record high in 2012, with rapid growth in both carbon dioxide and methane concentrations, according to a new report released Wednesday by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). The report provides new insights into the extent to which human activities, combined with natural processes, have reshaped the makeup of the atmosphere since the dawn of the industrial revolution.

As a result of all the extra CO2 pumped into the air, worldwide average temperatures have already risen by 1.6°F between 1901-2012 and are projected to increase by between 0.54°F to 8.64°F by 2081-2100 compared to 1986-2005 levels, depending on the future amounts of greenhouse gases in the air, according to a recent report from the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

The report from the WMO, which is based in Geneva, Switzerland, found that between 1990 and 2012 there was a 32 percent increase in the warming effect on the climate, known as radiative forcing. By far the biggest contributor to that trend was a steep rise in atmospheric concentrations of CO2, which came mainly from burning fossil fuels and land use change, the report said.

"As a result of this (increase in greenhouse gases), our climate is changing, our weather is more extreme, ice sheets and glaciers are melting and sea levels are rising," Michael Jarraud, WMO secretary-general, said in a press release.

Compared to the preindustrial era, the global average atmospheric concentration of CO2 - the most important long-lived greenhouse gas - has increased by 41 percent, the report found. During the same time period, the concentration of methane in the atmosphere jumped by 160 percent and nitrous oxide, which is another greenhouse gas and a contributor to smog, rose by 20 percent. Methane is a more powerful warming agent than CO2, but only lasts in the atmosphere for a few decades, whereas CO2 molecules can linger in the air for many centuries to more than a thousand years.

The long lifespan of CO2 means that if emissions are not curtailed soon, major impacts of climate change, from extreme weather events to melting glaciers and rising seas, will be locked into the climate for centuries to come.

"We need to act now, otherwise we will jeopardize the future of our children, grandchildren, and many future generations," Jarraud said. "Time is not on our side."   


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