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Hopes for 'safe' temperature increase within 2C fade as Hawaii station documents
second-greatest emissions increase.
The chances of the world holding
temperature rises to 2C – the level of global warming considered "safe" by
scientists – appear to be fading fast with US scientists reporting the
second-greatest annual rise in CO2 emissions in 2012.
Carbon dioxide levels measured at at Mauna Loa observatory in Hawaii jumped by
2.67 parts per million (ppm) in 2012 to 395ppm, said Pieter Tans, who leads the
greenhouse gas measurement team for the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric
Administration (NOAA). The record was an increase of 2.93ppm in 1998.
The jump comes as a study published in Science on Thursday looking at global
surface temperatures for the past 1,500 years warned that "recent warming is
unprecedented", prompting UN climate chief, Christiana Figueres, to say that
"staggering global temps show urgent need to act. Rapid climate change must be
countered with accelerated action."
Tans told the Associated Press the major factor was an increase in fossil fuel
use. "It's just a testament to human influence being dominant", he said. "The
prospects of keeping climate change below that [two-degree goal] are fading
Preliminary data for February 2013 show CO2 levels last month standing at
their highest ever recorded at Manua Loa, a remote volcano in the Pacific. Last
month they reached a record 396.80ppm with a jump of 3.26ppm parts per million
between February 2012 and 2013.
Carbon dioxide levels fluctuate seasonally, with the highest levels usually
observed in April. Last year the highest level at Mauna Loa was measured at
What is disturbing scientists is the the acceleration of CO2 concentrations in
the atmosphere, which are occurring in spite of attempts by governments to
restrain fossil fuel emissions.
According to the observatory, the average annual rate of increase for the past
10 years has been 2.07ppm – more than double the increase in the 1960s. The
average increase in CO2 levels between 1959 to the present was 1.49ppm per year.
The Mauna Loa measurements coincide with a new peer-reviewed study of the
pledges made by countries to reduce CO2 emissions. The Dutch government's
scientific advisers show that rich countries will have to reduce emissions by
50% percent below 1990 levels by 2020 if there is to be even a medium chance of
limiting warming to 2C, thus preventing some of climate change's worst impacts.
"The challenge we already knew was great is even more difficult", said Kelly
Levin, a researcher with the World Resources Institute in Washington. "But even
with an increased level of reductions necessary, it shows that a 2° goal is
still attainable – if we act ambitiously and immediately."
Extreme weather, which is predicted by climate scientists to occur more
frequently as the atmosphere warms and CO2 levels rise, has already been seen
widely in 2013.
China and India have experienced their coldest winter in decades and Australia
has seen a four-month long heat wave with 123 weather records broken during what
scientists are calling its 'angry summer'.
"We are in [getting] into new climatic territory. And when you get records being
broken at that scale, you can start to see a shifting from one climate system to
another. So the climate has in one sense actually changed and we are now
entering a new series of climatic conditions that we just haven't seen before",
said Tim Flannery, head of the Australian government's climate change
commission, this week.
Earlier this week the Met Office warned that the "extreme" patterns of flood and
drought experienced by Britain in 2012 were likely to become more frequent. One
in every five days in 2012 saw flooding but one in four days were in drought.