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Greenhouse gas levels hit record high in 2022: WMO

Published: 16th Nov, 2023

Context:

As per the report by World Meteorological Organisation (WMO), Carbon dioxide levels reached 50% higher than pre-industrial levels.

Greenhouse Gas rising levels:

  • GHG rise: The concentrations of greenhouse gases (GHG) that trap heat in the Earth’s atmosphere rose to record levels in 2022, according to the GHG bulletin released by the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) on November 15, 2023.
  • The rise in concentrations of GHGs is mainly due to the use of fossil fuels for various human activities.
  • Effects of GHGs rise: This would lead to a further rise in global average temperatures, sea-level rise, glacial melting and increase in frequency and intensity of rapid-onset extreme weather events such as torrential rainfall, flash floods, tropical cyclones and heatwaves.
  • Current GHG levels: Global average concentrations of carbon dioxide (CO2), which is the most important GHG, reached 417.9 parts per million, for the first time in 2022.
  • The figure is 50 per cent higher than pre-industrial levels. “They (concentration levels) continued to grow in 2023,” said a press release by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO).
  • Historical Comparison of GHG: The last time CO2 concentration was at this level was 3-5 million years ago, when the Earth’s average temperature was 2-3 degrees Celsius warmer and sea levels were 10-20 meters higher than present.

How much CO2 causes global warming?

  • Around 50 per cent of this CO2 remains in the atmosphere, causing global warming.
  • Around 25 per cent is absorbed by the oceans, causing ocean acidification, which is harmful for marine plants and animals.
  • Another 30 per cent is absorbed by ecosystems on land, such as forests.
  • All these are known carbon sinks, though there is considerable year-on-year variability in them.

Other Major GHGs:

  • The concentrations of the other two major GHGs — methane and nitrous oxide — also grew in 2022.
  • Methane: It has the second-highest concentration in the atmosphere, reached 1,923 parts per billion.
  • Nitrous oxide: It has the third-highest concentration in the atmosphere, reached8 parts per billion. It saw the highest year-on-year increase from 2021 to 2022. The gas is 300 times more potent than CO2 at trapping heat.

Global Warming by GHGs:

  • CO2 accounts for 64 per cent of the global warming effect, while methane accounts for 16 per cent and nitrous oxide accounts for 7 per cent.

WMO Analysis:

  • Net Zero: Given the long life of CO2, the temperature level already observed will persist for several decades even if emissions are rapidly reduced to Net Zero.
  • Socioeconomic and environmental costs: Due to GHG emissions, the socioeconomic and environmental costs will soar. We must reduce the consumption of fossil fuels as a matter of urgency.
  • Interspherical interaction: There are still a lot of uncertainties in understanding the mechanisms of how CO2 moves between the ocean, the land biosphere and the permafrost areas, as per the organisation.

Way Forward:

  • Action Oriented Goals: These uncertainties, however, must not deter action. Instead, they highlight the need for flexible, adaptive strategies and the importance of risk management in the path to net-Zero and the realization of the Paris Agreement’s goals.
  • Timely and accurate Data: The provision of accurate, timely, and actionable data on greenhouse gas fluxes becomes more critical in recent times.
  • Sustainable shifts: The need for encouraged sustainable shifts in industry perspectives and practices by eliminating incentives and subsidies for plastic producers, manufacturers and distributors. It is also all for imposing appropriate fees and restrictions on industries.
  • Alternatives to Plastics: It also laid emphasis on the identification of sustainable alternatives to plastics to protect human health and the environment, particularly by addressing plastics or chemicals in plastics. The latter are known carcinogens, endocrine disruptors and substances that persist, bio-accumulate and are toxic in the environment.
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