Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reached Record Highs in 2012

According to a new report released by the World Meteorological Organization, atmospheric levels of greenhouse gases reached a new world record in 2012.

The report casts doubt about whether the international community can limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius—widely cited as a threshold that we can’t surpass if we aim to maintain a relatively stable climate. By 2020, the UN Environment Programme predicts that greenhouse gas emissions will be 8 to 12 billion tons higher than the level needed to stay within the 2 degrees Celsius threshold. Based on our current trajectory, we will hit that mark by mid-century.

“For all these major greenhouse gases the concentrations are reaching once again record levels,” said the head of the World Meteorological Organization, Michel Jarraud. “This year is worse than last year, 2011. 2011 was worse than 2010. Every passing year makes the situation somewhat more difficult to handle, it makes it more challenging to stay under this symbolic 2 degree global average.”

According to the report, levels of carbon dioxide—the primary human-caused greenhouse gas—grew faster in 2012 than in the previous decade. The current atmospheric content of carbon dioxide is 393.1 parts per million, an increase of 2.2 ppm from 2011. The average increase over the past 10 years has been 2.02 ppm. Current carbon dioxide levels are 41% higher than pre-industrial levels and the highest recorded level in at least 800,000 years.

Other greenhouse gas levels also went up. Methane levels reached a global average of 1819 parts per billion, an increase of 160% over pre-industrial levels. Nitrous oxide levels, meanwhile, reached 325.1 parts per billion, an increase of 20% over pre-industrial levels.

“Even if we were able to stop today—we know it’s not possible—the ocean would continue to warm and to expand and the sea level would continue to rise for hundreds of years," said Jarraud. “Limiting climate change will require large and sustained reductions of greenhouse gas emissions. We need to act now, otherwise we will jeopardize the future of our children, grandchildren and many future generations."