There were a lot of changes in 2016. Some were visible to the naked eye--take, for instance, the US presidential campaign. Others, though, weren't so immediately apparent, like soaring carbon dioxide levels.
In fact, according to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), the Earth experienced unprecedented levels of carbon dioxide in 2016. They were so high that WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas warned that they could jeopardize the goals laid out in the international Paris Agreement to curb worldwide greenhouse emissions.
According to a recent report compiled by the UN weather agency, carbon dioxide levels reached 403.3 parts per million (ppm) in 2016. That's up from 400ppm in 2015.
"We have never seen such big growth in one year as we have been seeing last year in carbon dioxide concentration. And this is demonstrating that we are not moving in the right direction at all. We are actually moving in the wrong direction when we think about the implementation of the Paris Agreement."
And, the levels aren't showing of slowing down anytime soon. According to NASA's latest measurement taken in September 2017, CO2 levels came in at 406.94.
So what exactly is causing the soaring levels? Taalas blames human activity.
CO2 levels have been on the rise since the beginning of the industrial revolution in 1750, when factories began to inadvertently pump out pollutants and other toxins into the atmosphere as a result of their manufacturing efforts. But other factors, such as population growth, intensified agricultural practices, deforestation, and fossil fuels, have also contributed to increased carbon dioxide throughout the years, the WMO noted.
"Without rapid cuts in CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions, we will be heading for dangerous temperature increases by the end of this century, well above the target set by the Paris climate change agreement," Taalas added. "Future generations will inherit a much more inhospitable planet."'
Under the Paris Agreement, which was reached at the end of 2015, world leaders vowed to keep global temperatures "well below" two degrees Celsius. More than 190 countries are continuing to reach this goal despite the U.S.' recent withdrawal from the treaty, which was announced my President Trump in June 2017.
Though the issue remains highly controversial, scientists warn that carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, contributes greatly to global warming because of its ability to trap heat in the atmosphere. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, carbon dioxide stays in the atmosphere much longer than other gases like methane and nitrous oxide.
Chief of Atmospheric Environment Research Division of the WMO Oksana Tarasova addressed the magnitude of the organization's recent findings.
"The fastest geological changes we observed - the fastest based on the ice cores - were 10 ppm in 100 to 200 years," she said. "So, what we are doing now with the atmosphere is at least 10 to 20 times faster than ever been observed in the history of the planet."
The issue may seem nearly impossible to solve, but Taalas urged members of the Paris Agreement to be more proactive with their approach to tackle climate-change issues.
"Sometimes at the political level they think that once they have signed the Paris Agreement the problem is solved, but it's just the beginning of this process and now the challenge is to convert our energy system, our transport system, and also our dietary system to favour carbon neutral or less carbon-intensive ways of behavior. And that hasn't happened fast enough to reach those targets at the moment."
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