Greenhouse gas levels reached record high last year, UN says 

Levels of greenhouse gases that are the main contributor to climate change hit a new high last year, the UN said on Monday. 

The concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, which is responsible for about 80 per cent of the Earth’s warming, exceeded the average annual increase in the last decade, according to the World Meteorological Organization. 

The concentration of both methane and nitrous oxide also hit record highs last year, according to the report. 

"There is no sign of a slowdown, let alone a decline, in greenhouse gas concentration in the atmosphere despite all the commitments under the Paris Agreement on Climate Change," WMO head Petteri Taalas said in a statement.

The report was released ahead of next month’s global climate summit in Madrid, at which states will discuss the next steps to achieving the aims of the 2015 Paris agreement to keep warming below 2 degrees celsius. 

The 195 signatories of the agreement also committed the states to work towards limiting warming to 1.5 degrees celsius – the level which the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says is necessary to limit the devastating impact of drought, floods and the destruction of biodiversity.  

A study from the UN Environment Programme out on Tuesday shows that greenhouse gas emissions have also increased yet again in the last year. 

Richard Black, the director of the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit, said the two reports show that “the gap between what’s needed to keep warming below 2 degrees and what’s actually happening is the largest it’s ever been.” 

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Global average concentrations of CO2 hit 407.8 parts per million in 2018, an increase from 405.5 parts per million (ppm) in 2017. 

There has been a 43 per cent increase in the warming impact of greenhouse gases since 1990. 

Methane, which contributes to around 17 per cent of this warming, comes mostly from human activities, including cattle farming and rice growing.

Forest fires and fertiliser use contribute to nitrous oxide emissions, which also increase warming. 

The WMO study looked at the global levels of greenhouse gases which hang around in the atmosphere, rather than emissions. 

Around 25 per cent of emissions are absorbed into the atmosphere, and CO2 stays in the ecosystem for centuries, and even longer in oceans.

Levels of C02 are now 47 per cent higher than pre-industrial levels in 1750.  Despite the questions raised by the report of the effectiveness of global climate change policy, the WMO’s Mr Taalas included a note of optimism yesterday. 

"The visibility of these issues is the highest (it has) ever been," he said. 

Mr Taalas said despite the Trump administration’s withdrawal from the 2015 Paris agreement, “plenty of positive things are happening."

The EU has committed to cutting its greenhouse gas emissions by 40 per cent by 2030 but new Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, is leading a push to raise that to 50 per cent. 

The IPCC has said carbon emissions need to reach net zero in order to keep warming below 1.5 degrees celsius. 

Yesterday, the EU was due to declare a symbolic "climate emergency" ahead of the Madrid summit. 

The UK this year became the first country in the G7 to legislate for net-zero emissions by 2050, though a parliamentary report in August warned that it would need to do more to combat emissions if it is going to stay on track to meet its targets.

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