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CO2 Hits New High; World Could Warm 7°F by 2060

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The amount of heat-trapping carbon dioxide in the atmosphere reached a record 390.9 parts per million (ppm) in 2011, according to a report released Tuesday by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). That’s a 40 percent increase over levels in 1750, before humans began burning fossil fuels in earnest.

Although CO2 is still the most significant long-lived greenhouse gas, levels of other heat-trapping gases have also climbed to record levels, according to the report. Methane, for example hit 1813 parts per billion (ppb) in 2011, and nitrous oxide rose to 324.2 ppb. All told, the amount of excess heat prevented from escaping into outer space was 30 percent higher in 2011 than it was as recently as 1990.

Atmospheric CO2 at Mauna Loa Observatory.
Click image to enlarge.
Credit: NOAA.

These are sobering numbers, not because they come as any sort of surprise, but rather because they don’t. Scientists have known about the heat-trapping properties of CO2 since the mid-1800s. They’ve been documenting the steady rise of CO2 pumped largely out of smokestacks and exhaust pipes since the 1950s.

About half of the excess CO2 going into the atmosphere so far has been absorbed by plants and the oceans, but, said WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud in a press release, “ . . . this will not necessarily continue in the future” as these natural “sinks” for CO2 reach their capacity.

The CO2 that remains in the atmosphere, meanwhile, takes centuries to dissipate, which is why the numbers continue to climb. As a result of all the extra CO2 pumped into the air, worldwide average temperatures have already risen by 1.8°F since 1900. 

Yet despite all of this knowledge, the world has largely failed to act on reducing emissions. The best they could do at a UN-sponsored climate meeting in Copenhagen in 2009 was to agree to a non-binding target of limiting the world’s greenhouse-gas-triggered temperature increase to no more than 2°C (3.6°F) above preindustrial levels to limit the potential damage. Just a year later, it was already clear that they wouldn’t come close to making it.

Frustrated with this global inaction, the World Bank released a report on Sunday saying that without significant emissions reductions, the world’s average temperature could climb by 4°C (7.2°F) by as early as 2060. The report highlighted the dire consequences for human health and safety — including dangerous sea level rise, heat waves, and other extreme weather events.

But the potential disruption to people and property are so enormous that the report is, if not a wake-up call, at least another attempt to rouse world leaders after too many false starts and stops.

It calls not just for a reduction in CO2 emissions, but also for an aggressive program to reduce other drivers of global warming that might be easier to control including not just short-lived but powerful greenhouse gases like methane, but also heat-absorbers such as black carbon — essentially, soot. 

Unlike CO2, which stays in the atmosphere for a century or more, black carbon and other so-called “short-lived climate forcers” act on timescales of weeks to a few years, meaning that reducing them would yield much faster benefits.

The World Bank report also calls attention to the fact that poor people and poor nations are at the greatest risk from the dangers posed by rising greenhouse-gas levels and the changes in climate that are likely to result.

Related Content
In The Curve: Monitoring Rising Carbon Emissions
Emissions Reduction Pledges Fall Far Short of Copenhagen Accord 
Hansen Study: Extreme Weather Tied to Climate Change
Report Details Climate Change, Extreme Weather Links

Comments

By yew yew (colorado springs, co 80901)
on November 20th, 2012

What effects do various lasers make to co2 bond stability?
Can co2 be reduced to monoxide?
Can heat be convected from co1?
What is the range of heat absorbed by atmosphere co2 and is that range going to the capacity?

Does “trapped”  mean irreversible?
Does absorbed mean irreversible?
Does co2 move to a limited altitude?

Is there something more definite to know with the ppm statements?
Got ‘Link to’  for a slight rise in comprehension?

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By D. Cohen
on November 21st, 2012

CO2 bonds can be photolyzed (broken with light or a laser) to form CO and oxygen under certain laboratory conditions, there are papers on it. But that takes tremendous amounts of energy (which right now require releasing tremendous amounts of carbon) and carbon dioxide has it’s own plethora of environmental issues; CO is a free radical so its unstable and poisonous, and in the atmosphere it promotes the formation of ground level ozone which is very poisonous and ultimately CO just oxidizes back to CO2 quickly in the atmosphere. CO isnt a strong greenhouse gas in itself but it reacts with the hydroxyl radical in the atmosphere. Hydroxyl radical is an atmospheric detergent of sorts, reacting with greenhouse cases to form more benign compounds, so CO promotes global warming indirectly this way.

The vast majority of CO2 stays below the stratosphere, and much of it is absorbed into the ocean and the ecosystem. When sunlight hits a CO2 molecule, it strongly absorbs the infrared light, letting the visible light pass.What is actually happening is the molecule is converting the infrared-light energy into heat energy by a quantum interaction, gaining kinetic energy (i.e. the temperature of the gas goes up) which is then slowly converted back into infrared light energy which harmlessly dissipates back into space (but of course the solar energy keeps coming in, pumping the CO2 molecules to capacity with heat). But at the rate we have added carbon, it would take about 1000 years of literally zero greenhouse emission for enough carbon to concentrate down into sinks enough to see it’s effects reversed much. Though carbon sequestration and possibly some geoengineering technologies might help alleviate that sooner. definitely not photolytic reduction though, that’s pretty much a dead end as I see it.

I study environmental chem and honestly one of the best general references i can point you to (besides a text book or a big stack of data) is the wikipedia page “CO2 in earths atmosphere” and all the references it cites (all scholarly journals). Great page. I believe that page actually cites the NOAA study at Mauna Loa observatory cited here, its really a very important study.

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By Os Razor (Tallahassee/FL/32311)
on November 21st, 2012

Nothing short of a concerted global effort - much larger than the Manhattan Project - is needed to dramatically reduce CO2 production and atmospheric concentration.  No one solution exists; many projects are underway - and yet CO2 continues to increase.  Is there any known energy resource that exists with a global capacity to accomplish the task?  There is one un-tapped resource and it is the vast number of oceanic hydrothermal vents producing copious quantities of super-critical hot water.
A database of known hydrothermal vents is being administered by the International Seabed Authority at   http://www.isa.org.jm/en/scientific/cdr .  Many more vents have yet to be identified along the 50,000 mile length of the Ring of Fire.  Compared to the high risks and expense associated with exploring and developing offshore oil reserves, finding and evaluating hydrothermal vents for energy capture is low risk and relatively low cost.  Super-critical hot water production from a vent can last for more than a century and the global resource has persisted undiminished for more than a billion years.
For global CO2 reduction, the corrective action takes its most simplified path of having the US Congress authorize a Purchase Order for 100 billion pounds of liquefied hydrogen that is produced solely by US companies using the super-critical hot water of ocean hydrothermal vents.  The P.O. would be renewed after each order is filled and reauthorized at 20-year increments.  The product would be delivered to any capable US port with the US government dispensing it to agencies/military for direct consumption, dedicating it for use in the national hydrogen/fuel cell highway program, selling it to electric power plants and selling it on the commodities market. 
You do know that the US government’s purchase order of fossil fuels has been ongoing for over 200 years. Therefore, a large recurring P.O. for hydrogen would not be unreasonable and could easily be accommodated within the existing US energy infrastructure.
This action would stimulate private investment in the exiting offshore platform and ship building industries, pipeline transmission sector, product storage vessels, steel manufacturing, etc. to create millions of new jobs in the US.  Other nations would follow the US initiative and within ten years hydrogen would become a prominent component of the global energy market.
You may recall Joan Ogden’s 1999 plan for a national solar-hydrogen energy program: http://www.princeton.edu/pei/energy/publications/reports/No.318.pdf Her plan contains the essential structure for realizing this rapid transition to hydrogen – it was just ahead of its time, a bit complicated and climate change was still being debated.  Now, the world has a vital reason for moving forward.  The world has mature technology in-place for rapid and successful integration. Emphasis is placed on the global petroleum sector and their century-long expertise in producing and using hydrogen specifically to crack heavy crude.  Done properly, the environmental impact could be minimal or benign.
Climate Central needs to encourage the US Congress to authorize the P.O. in the federal budget for 2013-2014 and let the private sector respond.

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By Peter McClurkin
on November 24th, 2012

An extraordinary presentation about our climate was given just last week by Daniel Shrag of Harvard, as part of the Holiday Lecture Series from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI).  His lecture is not alarmist, but very grim, with a frank assessment of where we stand.  The lecture, about 90 minutes long, is available for online streaming at:
[removed]MM_openBrWindow(‘http://media.hhmi.org/2012unedited/12lect3_800_unedited.html’,‘window’,‘scrollbars=no,resizable=yes,width=680,height=390’)

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By John Davenport (Coyote Hole, MT 59661)
on November 27th, 2012

Is the World Bank’s 7.2 F estimate by 2060 in addition to, or including, the 1.8F we’ve already warmed? I wish writers would be clear about that point in every communication.

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By Tumwijukye Ok Amerito (Uganda)
on February 1st, 2013

Whatever humanity is doing towards environmental destruction, he still bears the plant of the blow. The environment can live without man but man cant live without the environment. we must conserve or we conserve.

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By Mark Ziegler (Livonia, MI 48150)
on March 28th, 2013

396.80 ppm. Hobby Website: www.viewcrafters.com
Global Warming, Climate Change, Fountain Of Youth.

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