CO2 Levels Break Record, Hitting New High & Raising Alarm

The daily average level of 418.12 parts per million exceeds what climate scientists consider a safe limit, Jessica Corbett reports. 

By Jessica Corbett
Common Dreams

Climate scientists and campaigners reiterated their demands for urgent global action to dramatically reduce planet-heating emissions in response to a new record-breaking reading on Sunday of the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Experts and activists have long pointed at rapidly rising CO2 concentrations as evidence that the international community must do more to address the climate crisis. The daily average of CO2 levels on May 3 was 418.12 parts per million, according to NOAA’s Mauna Loa Observatory, an atmospheric baseline station in Hawaii.

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change secretariat (UN Climate Change) highlighted the finding on Twitter Monday and called on countries across the globe to improve their national climate action plans.

Although the next major UN climate summit, COP26, is postponed until next year due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, countries party to the landmark 2015 Paris climate agreement are still under pressure to unveil their nationally determined contributions (NDCs) sometime this year.

Clear, blue sky over Beijing during the Covid-19 lockdown. (James Barnard)

The Covid-19 lockdowns, which persist in many places around the world, have led to declines in fossil fuel emissions and other pollution. In a note on the webpage detailing daily averages, NOAA addresses whether the impacts of the pandemic are affecting the CO2 record:

“There have been many inquiries whether we can see in our CO2 measurements at Mauna Loa and elsewhere the slowdown in CO2 emissions from the burning of fossil fuels. That drop in emissions needs to be large enough to stand out from natural CO2 variability caused by how plants and soils respond to seasonal and annual variations of temperature, humidity, soil moisture, etc. These natural variations are large, and so far the “missing” emissions do not stand out.

Here is an example: If emissions are lower by 25 percent, then we would expect the monthly mean CO2 for March at Mauna Loa to be lowered by about 0.2 ppm, and again in April, etc. Thus, when we compare the average seasonal cycle of many years we would expect a difference to accumulate after a number of months, each missing 0.2 ppm. The International Energy Agency expects global CO2 emissions to drop by 8% this year. Clearly, we cannot see a global effect like that in less than a year. CO2 would continue to increase at almost the same rate, which illustrates that to tackle our global heating emergency aggressive investments need to be made in alternative energy sources.”

David N. Thomas, a professor at the School of Ocean Sciences at Bangor University in Wales, shared on Twitter Tuesday an infographic and “sobering” report about the pandemic’s expected impact on global CO2 emissions.

That April 30 report from the Breakthrough Institute says that “meaningfully altering atmospheric concentrations of CO2 — and meaningfully “bending the curve” away from high warming outcomes — requires sustained year-over-year emissions reductions rather than temporary drops during economic crises.”

Thomas also took to Twitter Monday to acknowledge the new daily average record at the Mauna Loa station. He pointed out that the previous record had been set just two days earlier — 418.03 ppm on May 1 — and posited that the May 3 record “unfortunately will be broken several more times this month.”

That concern was shared Tuesday by climate activist Greta Thunberg, the 17-year-old Swede who founded the global Fridays for Future movement:

Thunberg noted that the daily average from Sunday is nearly 70 ppm beyond 350 ppm, which experts— including former NASA climatologist James Hansen— have deemed the safe limit. As Hansen has said: “If humanity wishes to preserve a planet similar to that on which civilization developed and to which life on Earth is adapted, paleoclimate evidence and ongoing climate change suggest that CO2 will need to be reduced… to at most 350 ppm.”

In a tweet Tuesday, the South Africa-based climate justice group The Collective Movement also noted that safe limit and expectations that CO2 concentrations “are more than likely to increase and unless action is taken.”

“We are heading to dangerous levels of CO2 in the atmosphere,” the group declared. “Where we are is bad enough. We can’t let these levels grow. We need #ClimateAction!”

The record in Hawaii came ahead of a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that warned if the warming continues at its current rate, up to three billion people could be forced to flee regions of the planet that would become too hot for humans to inhabit by 2070.

Jessica Corbett is a staff writer for Common Dreams. Follow her on Twitter: @corbett_jessica.

This article is from Common Dreams.

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11 comments for “CO2 Levels Break Record, Hitting New High & Raising Alarm

  1. Voice from Europe
    May 18, 2020 at 09:01

    Articles such as the above make climate activists adhere to climate scepticism. After two months of global industrial fossil fuel lockdown, co2 levels reach record daily averages. Something wrong with the numbers….I hope !

  2. Zhu
    May 18, 2020 at 04:48

    Many earlier societies destroyed themselves by destroying their environments. We can too.

  3. Voice from Europe
    May 17, 2020 at 17:06

    If the numbers of that record daily average on the 3rd of May is correct, that would mean that the lockdown of the western industrial world has had no impact on the CO2 level. A complete stop of the fossil fuel driven economies, no air traffic, no car and truck emissions, no cruises , the standstill has had no impact on the CO2 level. Improbable.

    There must have been some volcanic activity on the island or else I will turn from a climate activist into a climate change sceptic.

  4. Aaron
    May 15, 2020 at 12:58

    I thought maybe there was a chance that the pandemic would transform peoples’ attitudes toward life and lifestyle, and the importance of a sustainable environment/atmosphere, but I’m really not seeing that happen, to the contrary, I’m seeing an obsession to reopen and just get back to “normal” a.s.a.p., I guess it shouldn’t be surprising, since I’ve followed the climate science for many years, and with each new, more dire warning, there is an appalling lack of concern overall. I’m outside a lot, and the increase in extreme weather events is what is clear and obvious to me, we lurch from one extreme weather event to another and it gets worse every year, and recovering from each event in itself takes money, energy, resources and all that, so yeah, seems unfixable at this point, if people didn’t get it a long time ago, I don’t know what part of ‘irreversible’ they don’t seem to understand, I think schools/universities must be failing big time to churn out graduates that aren’t worried at the commensurate level with the science, I’m talking in general of course. Life for an 18 or 22 year old, what kind of climate to they imagine they’re going to be left with without enormous, immediate reductions in gases? Who’d wanna live in that environment?

  5. May 15, 2020 at 10:11

    No mention of reducing total ENERGY usage. Zero. The idea that we can continue to escalate energy usage by offsetting emissions with solar and alternate production is fallacious at best. It takes enormous amounts of energy to mine raw materials, build manufacturing facilities, ship and set up solar arrays, nuclear plants, and wind farms. Planetary heating is caused by energy expenditures that follow the 1st and 2nd laws of thermodynamics, period.

    These climatologists need to address ENERGY usage related to activity’s such as unnecessary and malignant military deployments, the needless and redundant construction of communications and entertainment devices, the absolute absurdity of aviation usage, and the relationships of the above to an ever expanding energy grid.

    Utilizing CO2 modeling without addressing aggregate energy consumption produces inaccuracy’s in climate data analysis, period. Cap and Trade is only another way of avoiding functional solutions whilst padding the pockets of the worst offenders. Our grand children will inherit a dead and featureless desert.

    Good luck with skewed IPCC data…

  6. May 14, 2020 at 23:57

    Thank you.

  7. Pablo
    May 14, 2020 at 14:44

    One wonders what’s the actual significance of 0.1-0.5% variations in CO2 levels that already are 0.04% of the total gases in the atmosphere. Let alone how much precise and representative such a measure is of what is going around the globe and two opposites hemispheres.

  8. Hide Behind
    May 14, 2020 at 13:10

    We are still breathing, the life emptying oceans, and polluted waterways are blue, as are the skys, we are gradually going back to work, all is well in America.
    10,000 a month are dying due to covid19, and we can live ( after all it is primarily Poor Blacks, Latinos and elderly and those who were deemed d non essentials and sent home to live or die), and the essentials kept counting the profits for their Government/Corporates/Private paymasters.
    Even though American workerslost over a trillion dollars of their 401Ks that played for Corporate/Financial share losses, the essentials keep getting paid.
    What the climate does or does not do in future is unimportant and out of mind of those who do not make a living monitoring and moaning about climate change, Americans in the main just want to go back to being working and welfare check consumers.
    AS for rest of worlds populace, majority of which are Black, Latino and Asians, as long as they have enough “essentials” managing their resources and economies to provide a.erican military, Banks, bureaucrats, political hacks and industry owners,, “American and its connected European Essentials” on life support, their futures look sunny and Bright.
    Economic climate will always trump, pun intended, environmental concerns and loss to the non Essentials lives.

  9. truth first
    May 14, 2020 at 12:17

    It is difficult to be optimistic about this planets future. Consider all the major screw-ups that humans created that killed 60 million people as recently as 70 years ago. Not to mention all the ’empires’ that failed, killing hundreds of millions more in the process.

  10. Linda Furr
    May 14, 2020 at 10:01

    And who’s the bi-partisan great US ally in South America? Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro, the man who’s allowing corporate destruction of the the Amazon Jungles, the “lungs of the earth” to maximize neoliberalism’s “anything-for-a-buck” ideology.

    Tax the Rich!!!!!! We need their trillions of extra dollars to clean up the mess capitalism has wrought. Replant the jungles that corporations have razed for cattle grazing (and their Co2 emissions), with trees that are powerful in consuming Co2 and emitting oxygen, not the corporate cash cow palm trees that do so little for our air

  11. John R
    May 14, 2020 at 08:52

    This fine piece is just another dire warning that will be ignored by TPTB. We are killing ourselves and the planet – it’s that simple. Time to rearrange the deck chairs again.

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