Climate Action

Greenhouse gases hit a new record in 2018, says U.N.

Fire fighters battle the so-called Sand Fire in the Angeles National Forest near Los Angeles, California, United States, July 25, 2016. REUTERS/Gene Blevins.    TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY      - S1BETRRVKJAA

Extreme weather events like this 'Sand Fire' in Los Angeles are adding to greenhouse gas emissions. Image: REUTERS/Gene Blevins

Emma Farge
Correspondent, Reuters Geneva
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  • The concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere rose from 405.5 parts per million in 2017 to 407.8 ppm in 2018
  • The World Meteorological Organization found the annual increase in another greenhouse gas methane was the highest since 1998
  • The figures come ahead of the U.N. climate change summit in Madrid next week

Greenhouse gases in the atmosphere hit a new record in 2018, exceeding the average yearly increase of the last decade and reinforcing increasingly damaging weather patterns, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said on Monday.

The U.N. agency’s Greenhouse Gas Bulletin is one of a series of studies to be published ahead of a U.N. climate change summit being held in Madrid next week, and is expected to guide discussions there. It measures the atmospheric concentration of the gases responsible for global warming, rather than emissions.

Image: WMO

“There is no sign of a slowdown, let alone a decline, in greenhouse gases’ concentration in the atmosphere - despite all the commitments under the Paris Agreement on Climate Change,” said WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas.

“This continuing long-term trend means that future generations will be confronted with increasingly severe impacts of climate change, including rising temperatures, more extreme weather, water stress, sea level rise and disruption to marine and land ecosystems,” said a summary of the report.

The concentration of carbon dioxide, a product of burning fossil fuels that is the biggest contributor to global warming, surged from 405.5 parts per million in 2017 to 407.8 ppm in 2018, exceeding the average annual increase of 2.06 ppm in 2005-2015, the WMO report said.

Irrespective of future policy, carbon dioxide stays in the atmosphere for centuries, locking in warming trends.

“It is worth recalling that the last time the Earth experienced a comparable concentration of CO2 was 3-5 million years ago,” Taalas said.

“More hopeful than I used to be"

The annual increase in methane - a greenhouse gas that is more potent than CO2 but dissipates faster - was the highest since 1998, said the report, which includes data from dozens of sites as well as naval and aerial measurements.

For nitrous oxide, which helps to erode the atmosphere’s ozone layer and expose humans to harmful ultraviolet rays, it was the biggest increase ever recorded.

Asked about the Madrid talks, which begin on Dec. 2, Taalas said there were some grounds for optimism.

High-rise buildings are seen through smoke from bushfires during sunset in Sydney, Australia.
Image: REUTERS/Stephen Coates

“What is good news is the visibility of these issues is higher than ever,” he told journalists. “So, personally, I’m more hopeful than I used to be 10 years ago, but of course we have to speed up the process.”

Have you read?

The U.N. Environment Programme’s (UNEP) annual “emissions gap” report, due on Tuesday, assesses whether countries’ emissions reduction policies are enough to meet agreed targets of limiting global warming to 1.5 to 2 degrees Celsius (2.7 to 3.6 Fahrenheit).

Smoke from bushfires blanket mountain ranges as seen during a commercial flight over northern New South Wales, Australia.
Image: REUTERS/Tracey Nearmy

Last week, a report co-authored by UNEP showed that major fossil fuel producers are set to bust global environmental goals with their coal, oil and gas extraction in the next decade.

Later on Monday, a majority of European Union lawmakers were hoping to symbolically declare a “climate emergency” during a debate on the Madrid conference, to increase pressure on the incoming EU executive to take a stronger leading role in the fight against climate change.

People wade through the flooded St. Mark's Square during a period of seasonal high water in Venice, Italy.
Image: REUTERS/Manuel Silvestri
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