As climate change debate heats up, UN experts warn ‘we are running out of time’

10 September 2014 | Press Releases

New York, 9 September 2014 – The United Nations weather agency today voiced concerns over the surge of carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere, which has reached a new record high in 2013, amid worrying sings that oceans and biosphere seem unable to soak up emissions as quickly as they used to.

By absorbing much of the added heat trapped by atmospheric greenhouse gases, the oceans are delaying some of the impacts of climate change. Photo: WMO/Olga Khoroshunova

By absorbing much of the added heat trapped by atmospheric greenhouse gases, the oceans are delaying some of the impacts of climate change. Photo: WMO/Olga Khoroshunova

According to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) latest annual Greenhouse Gas Bulletin, the greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide (CO2), methane and nitrous oxide caused a 34 per cent increase in the global warming in the last 10 years.

Ahead of a climate summit organized by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon at UN Headquarters in New York set to take place on 23 September, the WMO urges the international community to take a concentrated action against accelerating and potentially devastating climate change.

“The Greenhouse Gas Bulletin shows that, far from falling, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere actually increased last year at the fastest rate for nearly 30 years. We must reverse this trend by cutting emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gases across the board,” WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud said at a press conference in Geneva today.

According to the report, in 2013, concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere was 142 per cent of the pre-industrial era (1750), and of methane and nitrous oxide 253 per cent and 121 per cent respectively.

“We know without any doubt that our climate is changing and our weather is becoming more extreme due to human activities such as the burning of fossil fuels,” added Mr. Jarraud.

The Bulletin, which focuses on the atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases and its impact on the climate, for the first time includes a section on ocean acidification prepared in collaboration with international partners.

“The inclusion of a section on ocean acidification in this issue of [the Bulletin] is appropriate and needed. It is high time the ocean, as the primary driver of the planet’s climate and attenuator of climate change, becomes a central part of climate change discussions,” said Wendy Watson-Wright, Executive Secretary of the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

The preliminary data in the report indicates that dramatic increase in carbon dioxide levels was possibly related not only to the steadily increasing CO2 emissions but also to reduced CO2 uptake by the earth’s biosphere.

While there is positive aspect in the fact that the ocean cushions one quarters of CO2 emissions that would otherwise occur in the atmosphere, experts warn about far-reaching repercussion of this process for marine organisms and biodiversity.

“Carbon dioxide remains in the atmosphere for many hundreds of years and in the ocean for even longer. Past, present and future CO2 emissions will have a cumulative impact on both global warming and ocean acidification. The laws of physics are non-negotiable,” said WMO Chief.

According to WMO analysis, due to the fastest ever rate of acceleration, the current level of ocean acidification appears unprecedented, at least over the last 300 million years.

“If global warming is not a strong enough reason to cut CO2 emissions, ocean acidification should be, since its effects are already being felt and will increase for many decades to come. I echo WMO Secretary General Jarraud’s concern – we are running out of time,” said Ms. Watson-Wright.

Stressing that the Greenhouse Gas Bulletin provides a scientific base for decision-making, the WMO Secretary-General has called for immediate international action to prevent further deterioration of the environmental situation.

“We have the knowledge and we have the tools for action to try to keep temperature increases within 2°C to give our planet a chance and to give our children and grandchildren a future. Pleading ignorance can no longer be an excuse for not acting,” concluded Mr. Jarraud.