Atmospheric concentrations of CO2 rose at record-breaking speed in 2016, 50 percent faster than the average over the past decade, according to a new report from the United Nations’ World Meteorological Organization. CO2 levels hit 403.3 parts per million last year, up from 400.00 ppm in 2015.
Last year’s record rise in CO2 was driven by human activities, such as the burning of fossil fuels, agriculture and land use change, and deforestation, as well as by a strong El Niño event, which triggered droughts in the tropics and decreased the ability of forests, vegetation, and oceans in those areas to absorb CO2.
The WMO said the abrupt changes to CO2 in the atmosphere witnessed over the past 70 years are “without precedent” and could lead to “severe ecological and economic disruptions.” The last time the earth experienced similar CO2 levels was 3-5 million years ago, when temperatures were 2-3 degrees Celsius hotter and seas were 10-20 meters higher than today, according to the report.
“Without rapid cuts in CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions, we will be heading for dangerous temperature increases by the end of this century, well above the target set by the Paris climate change agreement,” WMO Secretary–General Petteri Taalas said in a statement. “Future generations will inherit a much more inhospitable planet.”
For more on the rapid rise of atmospheric CO2 concentrations, and why it matters, click here.