2013 Sets Record in Atmospheric CO2, Makes Biggest Leap Since 1980s

Chris Carnevale | September 9, 2014 | Climate Change, Energy Policy

The results are in and they are sobering: last year was the largest annual leap in greenhouse gas concentrations (from 2012 to 2013) that we’ve seen since the 1980s, and continued the annual trend of setting a new record each year for the highest greenhouse gas concentration in the atmosphere than ever before in human history. This news was reported today by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) in their annual Greenhouse Gas Bulletin.

While the increase in greenhouse gas (GHG) concentration in the atmosphere is not particularly surprising, given its nearly perpetual upward trend, it is concerning that there was such a large leap in atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) from 2012 to 2013. The jump from 393.1 parts per million (ppm) in 2012 to 396.0 ppm in 2013 represents a change of 2.9 ppm, a rate of increase not seen since 1984. This jump is both disappointing and alarming as it shows that the global economy continues to ignore the severity of global warming and is actually increasing GHGs more now than in the 1980s, when climate science was a much more obscure and less understood issue.

That being said, the increase in atmospheric greenhouse gases was not due entirely to increased emissions from fossil fuel combustion, but rather, the data seems to indicate that other factors have influenced the increase in atmospheric CO2. As BBC reports, a large point of concern arising from this data, is that perhaps natural biological resources are unable to continue dealing with the increase in GHGs in the atmosphere:

The bulletin suggests that in 2013, the increase in CO2 was due not only to increased emissions but also to a reduced carbon uptake by the Earth’s biosphere. [Oksana Tarasova, chief of the atmospheric research division at the WMO, said] “We don’t understand if this is temporary or if it is a permanent state, and we are a bit worried about that […] It could be that the biosphere is at its limit but we cannot tell that at the moment. – BBC

This news reminds us of just how necessary it is take significant action on climate change. As we approach 400 ppm CO2, we are already 13% over the maximum level of atmospheric carbon recommended for the preservation of civilization (350 ppm). Now, more than ever we need public policy to incorporate the math of global warming, so eloquently laid out by Bill McKibben in 2012, which showed that we need to keep 80% of the known reserves of fossil fuels in the ground to avoid climate catastrophe. This was affirmed by the International Energy Agency’s assessment that we cannot burn more than one-third of proven fossil fuel reserves before 2050. The upcoming climate summit in New York City later this month will be one step toward preparing for the big Conference of the Parties in Paris next year. But closer to home, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has released two draft rules on carbon emissions from new and existing power plants in the U.S.  Today’s report from the WMO lends credence to the idea that not only is EPA’s rule sensible, but it is long overdue and may need to be strengthened to be effective. EPA is taking comments on the proposed rule until October 16. Will you take one minute to click here and submit a comment of support for limiting carbon pollution from power plants?

Chris Carnevale
Chris is SACE’s Climate Advocacy Director. Chris joined the SACE staff in 2011 to help with building public understanding and engagement around clean energy solutions to the climate crisis. Chris…
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