Greenhouse Gases Hit Highest Level in 800,000 Years

Image: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

By Natasha Lasky and Amy Lupica, ODP Staff Writers

Scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported that atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations are the highest concentration ever recorded. CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere reached 412.5 parts per million in 2020–2.5 parts per million higher than in 2019– despite a brief decline in carbon emissions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Why This Matters: The planet has reached a climate tipping point. Each of the last four decades was successively warmer than any decade that preceded it since 1850, and in 2019, atmospheric CO2 concentrations were higher than at any time in 2 million years.

As emissions continue to increase, targets aiming to limit the spread of global warming — like the Paris Agreement— look increasingly out of reach. Additionally, a recent report found that the world fell short of a “green recovery” from the pandemic and failed to take advantage of the emissions advantage gained by a year in quarantine. As the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow rapidly approaches, the world’s nations will need to come together to take unprecedented climate action on an ever-tightening deadline.

 

Emissions Crisis 

“It’s a record that keeps playing over and over again,” said Jessica Blunden, a NOAA climate scientist. “Things are getting more and more intense every year because emissions are happening every year.” The “State of the Climate in 2020” assessment was published in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society and results from 530 scientists from 66 countries. They found that despite a 6 to 7 percent dip in emissions in 2020, the two gigatons of carbon dioxide saved were not enough to have a lasting positive effect.

Scientists also found a worrying spike in methane concentrations in the atmosphere, rising to the highest levels in 1,000 years. Scientists believe this spike may be caused by increased microbial activity in human-made environments like landfills and farms and natural environments like wetlands. They worry that because microbial activity increases in warming temperatures, these environments have entered a dangerously emitting climate feedback loop. 

Last year didn’t only break records for greenhouses gas emissions in the atmosphere. Scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) also suggest that the amount of carbon from fossil fuel emissions in the oceans in 2020 was the highest it’s been in 39 years and 30% higher than the average amount measured from 1999-2019. 2020 was also the ninth year in a row that global sea levels reached record highs. Meanwhile, the global surface temperature in 2020 was also among the three highest ever recorded in data representing the last 200 years.

 

Up Next

US Green Diplomat Previews Glasgow

US Green Diplomat Previews Glasgow

By WW0 Staff For the United States, the post-Trump, pre-COP26 road to Glasgow has been paved with ambition and humility. In a major speech, the President’s Envoy, John Kerry, previewed the results of his climate diplomacy before heading into two weeks of intense deliberations of world leaders. Speaking at the London School of Economics — […]

Continue Reading 421 words
One Cool Thing: COP26 Coverage Kickoff

One Cool Thing: COP26 Coverage Kickoff

Next week, the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow will draw hundreds of world leaders to Glasgow to determine the path forward five years after the Paris Climate Agreement (for a primer, read this) as new science underscores the urgency. The conference aims to squeeze countries to strengthen the commitments they’ve made towards securing global net-zero […]

Continue Reading 194 words
DOD Says Climate Change Increases National Security Risks

DOD Says Climate Change Increases National Security Risks

By Amy Lupica, ODP Daily Editor In a report released last week, the Department of Defense (DOD) confirmed that existing risks and security challenges in the US are being made worse due to “increasing temperatures; changing precipitation patterns; and more frequent, intense, and unpredictable extreme weather conditions caused by climate change. Now, the Pentagon is […]

Continue Reading 440 words

Want the planet in your inbox?

Subscribe to the email that top lawmakers, renowned scientists, and thousands of concerned citizens turn to each morning for the latest environmental news and analysis.