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New low: Greenhouse gas levels hit record high

Posting in Environment

Fresh off yesterday's report from the World Bank warning of the devastating consequences the world will face if global temperatures rise by four degrees, the United Nations issued some more bad news.

In 2011, the amount of greenhouse gases in atmosphere reached the highest levels ever recorded.

The report, from the U.N.'s World Meteorological Organization, says that there was a 30 percent increase in radiative forcing (the warming effect on the planet) between 1990 and 2011 thanks to this increase in carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. The amount of CO2 in the atmosphere, the greenhouse gas that has done the most to increase radiative forcing, increased to 390.9 parts per million -- 2 ppm more than 2010 and a 140 percent increase from pre-industrial level of 280 ppm.

To be clear, this report is not measuring emissions. Rather, it measures the concentration of greenhouse gases that remain in the atmosphere "after the complex system of interactions between the atmosphere, biosphere and the oceans."

I wish there was a positive nugget to pull from this news, but I'm not finding it. Bottom line from the report: we need to start curbing emissions worldwide now.

“These billions of tonnes of additional carbon dioxide in our atmosphere will remain there for centuries, causing our planet to warm further and impacting on all aspects of life on earth,” said WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud in a statement. “Future emissions will only compound the situation.”

“Until now, carbon sinks have absorbed nearly half of the carbon dioxide humans emitted in the atmosphere, but this will not necessarily continue in the future. We have already seen that the oceans are becoming more acidic as a result of the carbon dioxide uptake, with potential repercussions for the underwater food chain and coral reefs. There are many additional interactions between greenhouse gases, Earth’s biosphere and oceans, and we need to boost our monitoring capability and scientific knowledge in order to better understand these.”

Dig into the full report here.

Photo: Flickr/pericoterrades

— By on November 20, 2012, 12:59 AM PST

Tyler Falk

Contributing Editor

Tyler Falk freelance journalist based in Washington, D.C. Previously, he was with Smart Growth America and Grist. He holds a degree from Goshen College. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure