Greenhouse gases reach a new record in 2021

GENEVA (AP) — The three main greenhouse gases reached record highs in the atmosphere last year, the UN weather agency said on Wednesday, calling it a “ominous” sign as The war in Ukraine, rising food and fuel prices and other worries have addressed longstanding concerns about global warming in recent months.

“No more bad news for the planet,” the World Meteorological Organization said in a statement accompanied by its latest annual greenhouse gas bulletin. It is one of many reports published in recent days examining several aspects of humanity’s fight against climate change in the run-up to the latest UN climate conference in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt. .

Of the three main types of heat-trapping greenhouse gases – carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide – the biggest jump from 2020 to 2021 was methane, whose concentrations in the air recorded the largest year-on-year increase since regular measurements. began four decades ago, the WMO said.

“The continued rise in concentrations of key heat-trapping gases, including record acceleration in methane levels, shows that we are headed in the wrong direction,” said WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas.

Methane is more powerful at trapping heat than carbon dioxide, but does not stay in the atmosphere as long as carbon dioxide and there is 200 times more carbon dioxide in the air than methane. Over a 20-year period, a molecule of methane traps about 81 times more heat than a molecule of carbon dioxide, but over a century, it amounts to trapping 28 times more heat per molecule than carbon dioxide, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Since pre-industrial times, which the WMO pegs around 1750, CO2 concentrations in the air have increased nearly 50% to 415.7 parts per million, the United States, China and Europe being responsible for most of the emissions. Methane is up 162% to 1,908 parts per billion, and nitrous oxide – whose human-made sources are things like biomass burning, industrial processes and fertilizer use – is up about a quarter to 334.5 parts per million.

Earlier on Wednesday, the UN’s climate office said current pledges to cut greenhouse gas emissions put the planet on track to exceed the limit for global warming countries agreed in the climate change accord. Paris on the climate of 2015.

He said his latest estimate based on 193 national emissions targets would see temperatures rise to 2.5 degrees Celsius (4.5 Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial averages by the end of the century, a degree higher than the ambitious target set in the Paris Pact to limit global warming to 1.5 C (2.7 F).

“We are still a long way from the scale and pace of emission reductions needed to put us on track towards a 1.5 degree Celsius world,” said the head of the UN climate office, Simon Stiell. , in a press release. “To keep this goal alive, national governments must strengthen their climate action plans now and implement them over the next eight years.”

The report found that emissions will also rise by 10.6% by 2030 from 2010 levels, down slightly from estimates of 13.7% last year.

A report released Wednesday by Climate Action Tracker that tracks nations’ pledges to reduce warming found that out of 40 emissions reduction indicators – such as weaning off coal, ramping up electric vehicles or reducing deforestation – the world was not on track for any of them. correspond to the levels of emission reductions that scientists believe are necessary to limit warming to 1.5°C. More than half of the indicators showed the world is “way behind” in reducing emissions, but added that promising progress has been made.

Climatologists and conservationists have been raising their voices for years on the impact of climate change, pointing to vast climate shifts in recent decades, such as wildfires in China and the western United States. United, drought in the Horn of Africa and unprecedented flooding in Pakistan. – to only cite a few.

CO2 remains the most important greenhouse gas generated by human activity – mainly from the burning of fossil fuels and the production of cement – accounting for around two-thirds of the warming effect on the climate, known as radiative forcing. Over the past decade, carbon dioxide has been responsible for about four-fifths of this warming effect.

Methane accounts for about more than a sixth of the warming effect, the WMO said. Three-fifths of methane reaches the atmosphere through livestock burps and farts, rice farming, fossil fuel use, biomass burning and landfills; the rest comes from natural sources like wetlands and termites.

Rob Jackson, who heads the Global Carbon Project, suggested that the methane spikes over the past two years were “mysterious” – either jolts linked to the coronavirus pandemic, which temporarily hampered emissions, or a sign of a “dangerous acceleration of methane emissions from wetlands and other systems that have concerned us for decades.

“Methane and nitrous oxide concentrations are not just increasing, they are increasing faster than ever. Without losing our focus on carbon dioxide, we need to pay more attention to ‘other’ greenhouse gases,” he added. “Fortunately, methane is starting to get the attention it deserves” thanks to initiatives like the Global Methane Pledge, a capping effort supported by the United States and the European Union, among others.

Nitrous oxide remains “mostly ignored”, he added.

Taalas, who has been repeating warnings about global warming for years, says the focus should remain on CO2.

“As the top and most urgent priority, we must reduce carbon dioxide emissions which are the main driver of climate change and associated extreme weather, and which will affect the climate for thousands of years through the loss polar ice, warming oceans and rising sea levels,” he said.

NASA has announced that an International Space Station instrument designed to observe mineral dust has proven to be a useful tool in finding methane “super emitters” from orbit. NASA has shared three images showing mile-long plumes spewing methane.

A cluster of a dozen leaks from pipelines and other gas infrastructure in Turkmenistan are leaking 55 tonnes of methane per hour, about the same as the infamous 2015 Aliso Canyon leak, a borehole in New- Mexico which spits out 18 tons per hour and a dump in Iran which is emitting 8 tons per hour.

“We’re looking in places where no one plans to look for methane,” said NASA instrument specialist Robert Green. “If it’s there, we’ll see it.”


Science writer Seth Borenstein in Washington and Frank Jordans in Berlin contributed.


The Associated Press’s climate and environmental coverage receives support from several private foundations. Learn more about AP’s climate initiative here. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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