WMO: Carbon dioxide levels hit the highest recorded in human history

Smoke billows from stacks at a coal-fired power plant in Shanxi, China. Photo: Kevin Frayer/Getty Images

Atmospheric levels of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide (CO2) reached the highest ever recorded in human history in 2018, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) announced in a new report Monday.

Why it matters: If the trend continues, as predicted, the impact of climate change will become even more severe, the intergovernmental organization warns. "The last time the Earth experienced a comparable concentration of CO2 was 3-5 million years ago," WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas said in a statement accompanying the report.

  • "Carbon dioxide is the most important long-lived greenhouse gas, with a single molecule lasting in the air for hundreds to around 1,000 years," science journalist Andrew Freedman has noted for Axios. "The continued buildup of carbon dioxide due to human activities, such as burning fossil fuels for energy, is driving global temperatures up and instigating harmful impacts worldwide."

By the numbers: The WMO's Greenhouse Gas Bulletin reports that globally averaged concentrations of CO2 reached 407.8 parts per million last year. That means for every 1 million molecules of gas in the atmosphere, almost 408 were carbon dioxide.

  • It's an increase from 405.5 parts per million (ppm) in 2017. "The increase in CO2 from 2017 to 2018 was very close to that observed from 2016 to 2017 and just above the average over the last decade," the WMO notes.
  • Global levels of CO2 crossed the symbolic and significant 400 parts per million benchmark in 2015.

What they're saying: United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) executive director Inger Andersen said in a statement the WMO data and preliminary findings in the 2019 UN Emissions Gap Report, released in September, "point us in a clear direction — in this critical period, the world must deliver concrete, stepped-up action on emissions."

"There is no sign of a slowdown, let alone a decline, in greenhouse gases concentration in the atmosphere despite all the commitments under the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. We need to translate the commitments into action and increase the level of ambition for the sake of the future welfare of the mankind."
— Statement by WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas

The big picture: This continuing long-term trend means that future generations can expect "rising temperatures, more extreme weather, water stress, sea level rise and disruption to marine and land ecosystems" unless drastic action is taken, the WMO says.

  • The WMO says global emissions are "not estimated to peak by 2030, let alone by 2020," if current climate policies and ambition levels of the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) are maintained.
  • Separate findings in the UN Environment's Emissions Gap Report assessing the latest scientific studies on current and estimated future greenhouse gas emissions, was due to be released Tuesday, ahead of next month's UN Climate Change Conference in Madrid.

Read the WMO bulletin:

Go deeper:

Additional Stories

Axios Dashboard

Keep up with breaking news throughout the day — sign up for our alerts.

Supreme Court to decide on release of Trump’s financial records

President Trump. Photo: BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI / Contributor/Getty Images

The Supreme Court agreed on Friday to take on three cases involving President Trump's finances to determine whether he can block the release of his records.

Why it matters: The court's ruling could give the American public a look at the president's finances after he has gone to great lengths to keep them under wraps.

Bloomberg: UK elections are the "canary in the coal mine" to 2020 Democrats

Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg at the climate meeting in Madrid, Dec. 10, 2019. Photo: Pablo Blazquez Dominguez/Getty Images

Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg is calling Boris Johnson's decisive victory in Britain's election the "canary in the coal mine" for the Democratic Party about its chances of unseating President Trump in 2020.

Why it matters: The latest entry to the Democratic presidential primary field said Friday the U.K. results reinforce the idea that it's simply not enough for Democrats to assume they will beat Trump next year.

Ukraine still seeking White House meeting for Zelensky

Trump and Zelensky at the UN in September. Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Dmytro Kuleba told reporters in Washington on Friday that Ukraine is still working to schedule a White House meeting for President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Why it matters: Kuleba emphasized that Ukraine needs strong support from the U.S. despite the current "turmoil" — a reference to impeachment proceedings. His status as the first member of Zelensky's government to visit Washington underlines the fact that Zelensky's own visit — which U.S. officials linked to Zelensky announcing investigations sought by President Trump — still has not happened.

Scoop: House Dems attend Trump's holiday party amid impeachment

President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump greet guests at the Congressional Ball at the White House. (Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Half a dozen House Democrats attended the White House Congressional Ball last night while their colleagues on the Judiciary Committee worked late into the night on articles of impeachment, according to two sources familiar with the event.

Why it matters: If you're looking for clues about which House Democrats might vote against impeaching President Trump next week, one tempting place to start is with those who chose to be Trump's guests at the annual ball — but that doesn't mean the two lists will totally overlap.

Nothing but sunshine for AVs in Florida

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Florida has become a hotbed for self-driving cars, thanks to its mild weather, unique demographics, lenient laws and an ambitious state senator.

Why it matters: States at the forefront of autonomous vehicle testing stand to reap the economic benefits — and perhaps problems, too — of self-driving cars.

U.S. and China reach "phase one" trade deal to avert December tariffs

Photo: Artyom Ivanov/TASS via Getty Images

The U.S. and China agreed to a "phase one" trade deal on Friday, which President Trump touted in a series of tweets.

The state of play: The deal averts a new round of tariffs scheduled to go into effect on Dec. 15, and a Chinese official said that the U.S. would reduce its tariffs on Chinese goods in stages, per Bloomberg. The deal includes an agreement from China to increase imports from the U.S. and purchase agricultural goods.

Scoop: The World Bank told Taiwanese staff to get Chinese passports

This year, the World Bank told current and prospective employees of Taiwanese nationality they must present Chinese travel documents in order to maintain or pursue employment.

Why it matters: China has recently ramped up its campaign to systematically force Taiwan and its citizens out of the international community. But forcing out its own staff in this way violates World Bank employment principles.

Read more at Axios
© Copyright Axios 2019