Record temperatures, devastating floods and superstorms are causing death and destruction across the planet but humans are failing to cut greenhouse gas emissions fueling the climate emergency, new US data shows.
Atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide (CO2), methane and nitrous oxide – the greenhouse gases emitted by human activity that are the most significant contributors to global heating – continued to increase rapidly during 2022, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (Noaa).
Carbon dioxide levels rose by more than two parts per million (ppm) for the 11th consecutive year: the highest sustained rate of CO2 increases since monitoring began 65 years ago. Before 2013, scientists had never recorded three consecutive years of such high CO2 growth.
Atmospheric CO2 is now 50% higher than pre-industrial levels.
The 2022 methane rise was the fourth-largest since records began in 1983, following record growth in 2021 and 2022, and now stands at an average of 1,912 parts per billion (ppb). Methane is a potent greenhouse gas less abundant than CO2 but which warms the Earth’s atmosphere much faster, and today is responsible for about 25% of the heat trapped by all greenhouse gases.
Methane levels in the atmosphere are now more than two and a half times their pre-industrial level. The oil and gas sector is the largest industrial source of methane, which can also cause medical complications, fires and even engine failure leading helicopters to fall out of the sky.
Levels of nitrous oxide, the third-most significant anthropogenic greenhouse gas, are now 24% higher than pre–industrial levels, following a 1.25ppb rise last year.
Fossil fuel-powered vehicles (cars, buses, trucks, farm machinery) are a major source of nitrous oxide, which is harmful to human health and water sources. But the primary culprits behind rising nitrous oxide levels in recent decades have been synthetic fertilisers and livestock manure from industrialised agriculture.
“The observations collected by Noaa scientists in 2022 show that greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise at an alarming pace and will persist in the atmosphere for thousands of years,” said Rick Spinrad, the Noaa administrator.
“The time is now to address greenhouse gas pollution and to lower human-caused emissions as we continue to build toward a Climate-Ready Nation.”
Scientists have been warning of catastrophic consequences for decades, yet meaningful climate action to cut fossil fuel use and other harmful human activities has been delayed and blocked, in large part due to the influence of industries such as oil and gas, agriculture, defence and automobiles.
Last month, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, made up of the world’s leading climate scientists, delivered a “final warning” on rising greenhouse gas emissions that have pushed the world to the brink of irrevocable damage that only swift and drastic action can avert.
The stark warning came a week after the Biden administration approved the multi-decade Willow drilling project in Alaska, which will generate millions of additional tons of greenhouse gas emissions.
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