Carbon dioxide in atmosphere at highest level for 5 million years
Atmosphere rising at fastest rate since records began
The concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has breached the symbolically important level of 400 parts per million (ppm) for the first time in 5 million years after rising at its fastest rate since records began.
Average daily CO2 levels jumped by 2.74 ppm in the first 17 weeks of 2013, compared to last year, the biggest increase since the benchmark monitoring stations high on the Hawaiian volcano of Mauna Loa began taking measurements in 1958.
Experts blamed most of the increase on rising emissions from China and India, which still rely heavily on coal for their energy, but said other factors could also be partially responsible, such as a reduced absorption of CO2 by forests and plants.
Registering a huge landmark on the climate change map – albeit a predictable and inevitable one – the monitoring stations recorded a CO2 concentration of 400.03 ppm on Thursday.
The elevated carbon emission reading harks back to the Pliocene period, between 3m and 5m years ago, when global average temperatures were 3 or 4C hotter than today, the Arctic was ice-free, sea levels were about 40m higher and jungles covered northern Canada.
It fuelled fears that CO2 emissions – widely, although not exclusively, regarded as being at least partially responsible for the sustained rise in temperature since the Industrial Revolution – were increasing at a faster rate than previously thought, with potentially disastrous consequences across the world.
Ed Davey, Energy and Climate Change Secretary, said: “This isn’t just a symbolic milestone, it’s yet another piece of clear scientific evidence of the effect human activity is having on our planet.”
He added that the development further underlined the need to decarbonise the UK economy and secure the legally binding deal that the world’s leading economies have agreed to finalise by 2015.
Al Gore added: “Take this day and the milestone it represents to reflect on the fragility of our civilisation and the planetary ecosystem on which it depends.”
Jon Sauven, executive director of Greenpeace UK, said: “This is a landmark moment for humankind, a milestone every bit as important as when the global population passed six then seven billion.”
The Hawaiian monitoring stations are run by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. They have been the benchmark since 1958 because Hawaii is so far from large population centres.
The first reading, made in March 1958, was 315ppm. In the early 1960s the CO2 emissions reading was going up at a rate of 0.7ppm a year, but the increase has since accelerated to 2.1ppm.
The concentration of CO2 typically peaks in May, before falling until October, as plant growth in the northern hemisphere’s summer absorbs the gas, and then goes up again during winter and spring.
Experts said it could take hundreds of years for the full effect of the higher CO2 concentration to be felt, for example by gradually changing ecosystem through the melting of ice caps in Antartica and Greenland.
- 1 I've been called an abusive and dangerous parent, when all I did was listen to my transgender child
- 2 Why this father didn’t hide his daughter’s heroin overdose in her obituary
- 3 Company breaks open Apple Watch to discover what it says is 'planned obsolescence'
- 4 Teaching profession headed for crisis as numbers continue to drop and working lives become 'unbearable'
- 5 The most powerful passports in the world
Nepal earthquake in pictures: Photos show devastation caused by 7.8 magnitude earthquake
Smartphones are making children borderline autistic, says psychiatrist
Nepal earthquake: The race is on to help thousands trapped under rubble around Kathmandu, while remote villages face a long wait for help
Royal baby: Live updates as superbug closes ward at St Mary's Hospital where Duchess of Cambridge is due to give birth
Teaching profession headed for crisis as numbers continue to drop and working lives become 'unbearable'
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
The sickening truth about food banks that the Tories don't want you to know
Migrant boat disaster: Ukip candidate mocks victims in sickening Twitter post
Nigel Farage wants the BBC to stop making programmes like Doctor Who, Strictly Come Dancing, and Top Gear
Global warming: Scientists say temperatures could rise by 6C by 2100 and call for action ahead of UN meeting in Paris
General Election 2015: Britain would become a 'communist dictatorship' under Ed Miliband and Nicola Sturgeon, claims wife of Michael Gove
£26000 - £28000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistan...
£24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...
£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...
£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...