Carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere mark a near-record increase

Despite growing awareness of global climate change and its devastating effects, carbon dioxide levels continue to walk in the wrong direction.

This year’s annual rise in CO2 levels is one of the largest on record, representing a buildup of heat-trapped gases not seen in millions of years, scientists at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The current amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is now 50 percent higher than before the industrial era, NOAA and Scripps scientists said in a report.

The new figures offer further evidence that global climate efforts, including the transition from fossil fuels to cleaner energy, are falling short of what scientists say is needed to stem global warming.

Every year, we see the impacts of climate change in the heatwaves, droughts, floods, wildfires and storms that occur around us, NOAA Administrator Rick Spinrad said in a statement. While we will need to adapt to climate impacts we cannot avoid, we must make every effort to reduce carbon pollution and safeguard this planet and the life that calls it home.

Carbon dioxide levels in May averaged 424.0 parts per million (ppm), the fourth-largest annual increase since measurements began 65 years ago at NOAA’s Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii.

The highest mean monthly levels of CO2 peaks occur in May for the northern hemisphere, just after plants exude the gas before the growing season. The monthly average for May this year stood at 423.78 ppm, a 3.0 ppm increase from the May 2022 average.

The increases in carbon dioxide levels come as no surprise to climate scientists who have tracked them over time.

[The findings are] disappointing, but not surprising. We’re still seeing CO2 rising at the same rate it has in decades, Ralph Keeling, a geochemist at Scripps, told The Post.

Carbon dioxide that is generated from the burning of fossil fuels for transportation and electricity generation, cement production, deforestation, agriculture and many other practices traps heat from the planet’s surface that would otherwise escape into space. Carbon dioxide pollution, a key greenhouse gas, amplifies extreme weather events, such as heat waves, droughts and wildfires, as well as rainfall and floods.

Between January and April of this year, 12,972 wildfires burned more than 392,287 acres of land, according to NOAA. Atmospheric rivers, combined with snowmelt, hit the western United States with significant flooding that left hundreds of thousands without electricity.

Last year was declared the fifth or sixth warmest year on record by five different scientific organizations. Twenty-eight countries set national record annual averages last year, including Britain, Spain, France, Germany, China and New Zealand. Berkeley Earth reported that 850 million people experienced their hottest year ever.

Whatever we’re seeing weather-wise now is just the beginning of much bigger changes, Keeling said.

Scientists can monitor carbon dioxide in two ways. One is through direct measurements of CO2 levels in the atmosphere, as the Scripps scientists did at the Mauna Loa Observatory. The other method is the estimation of emissions from multiple sources of work conducted by the International Energy Agency.

In a March report, the IEA said global carbon dioxide emissions linked to energy generation rose 0.9 percent in 2022, reaching a new high of more than 36.8 billion tonnes.

As atmospheric carbon dioxide levels continue to rise, leaders around the world face mounting pressure to commit to more aggressive plans to reduce greenhouse gas pollution. Last year’s climate summit in Egypt, known as COP27, was widely seen as a disappointment on this score, with little progress being made on binding measures to cut emissions.

Scientists fear that the new El Nio cycle could increase the growth rate of CO2 in the atmosphere. El Nio, the opposite of La Nia, triggers warmer-than-normal surface waters in the tropical Pacific Ocean and is characterized by droughts in some regions.

During El Nio, drying tropical vegetation and savannahs contribute to higher C02 levels, Keeling said. The previous La Nia cycle contributed to slightly slower growth rates.

I expect next year’s news to look even worse, Keeling said.

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