CO2 levels at record high

Posted on 24 March 2004    
Rising CO2 levels are due to burning of fossil fuels, such as for electricity at this coal-fired power plant in Australia.
© WWF / Adam Oswell
Gland, Switzerland - According to a report in New Scientist, new data from the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) shows that the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere in 2003 reached an all time high of 376 parts per million (ppm). Mainly released through the burning of fossil fuels, CO2 is a major cause of global warming and climate change.

When the NOAA first began recording atmospheric CO2 levels in the late 1950s, average levels were around 315 ppm. This level has been steadily rising by about 1.5 ppm per year over the last few decades.

However, the New Scientist report says that data for 2002 and 2003 indicate that this increase may be accelerating: the increase for both years was 2.5 ppm above the previous year. NOAA scientists are reported to have suggested that this could be due to increased fuel use China and India arising from economic development in these countries.

Overall, the concentration of CO2 in the Earth's atmosphere has increased by 31 per cent since 1750, i.e., since industrialization.  Atmospheric levels of CO2 are now higher than at any time in the past 420,000 years. While this is mainly due to the burning of fossil fuels by people, changes in land use, especially deforestation, have also contributed to this increase.

"CO2 makes up 80 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions, which cause global warming and climate change. The news that this increase may be accelerating highlights the urgent need to cut down on CO2 emissions," says Jennifer Morgan, Director of WWF's Climate Change Programme.

WWF and many others demand urgent reductions in CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions to slow global warming. Such reductions can be achieved by setting mandatory caps on greenhouse gas emissions, including CO2, and supporting a switch towards clean energy — increased energy efficiency, and use of renewable energy resources such as wind, solar, and biomass. Experts agree that the rise in average global temperatures must stay well below 2 degree Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) to keep climate change impacts to a minimum. 
WWF's PowerSwitch! initiative challenges the power sector — the companies producing electricity, and the largest CO2-emitting sector — to become CO2-free by 2050 in developed countries and make a major switch from coal to clean in developing countries.

For further information
Martin Hiller
WWF Climate Change Programme
Tel: +41 22 3649226
Rising CO2 levels are due to burning of fossil fuels, such as for electricity at this coal-fired power plant in Australia.
© WWF / Adam Oswell Enlarge

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