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Climate Change: CO2 in atmosphere passes new danger mark

The last time that global CO2 levels were at this level was over 4 million years ago. Due to fossil fuel use, emissions have more than doubled since 1850

Climate change activists protest against international inaction in Stockholm.
Climate change activists protest against international inaction in Stockholm. (Getty Images)

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When it comes to climate change, these days no news can mean good news. This past week, however, has been full of news. And it has been damning, a record of how little is being done internationally to tackle climate change. On 3 June, the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said Earth’s atmosphere now has CO2 levels of 421 parts per million (ppm), over 50% more than the industrial era (baseline year of 1850).

NOAA stated that before the Industrial Revolution, atmospheric CO2 levels had been constant at 280ppm for nearly 6,000 years—pretty much the entirety of human civilisation. Since 1850, humans have emitted an estimated 1.5 trillion tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere, leading to the climate crisis. NOAA also stated that the last time atmospheric CO2 concentrations were this high was in the Pliocene era, around 4.1-4.5 million years ago. At that time, global sea levels were 5-25m higher than they are today, and the global temperature was much higher as well.

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How CO2 levels have steadily risen over the last 60 years, leading to climate change.
How CO2 levels have steadily risen over the last 60 years, leading to climate change. (Courtesy NOAA)

The point is, never in the history of Homo sapiens has atmospheric CO2 been this high. “It’s depressing that we’ve lacked the collective willpower to slow the relentless rise in CO2. Fossil-fuel use may no longer be accelerating, but we are still racing at top speed towards a global catastrophe,” said geochemist Ralph Keeling from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego. It is no wonder then that climate disasters are rising across the world. However, not only is this not spurring major emitting countries to ditch fossil fuels, it isn’t even leading to enough funding for vulnerable countries.

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Cumulative CO2 emissions by world region.
Cumulative CO2 emissions by world region. (Courtesy Our World in Data)

According to a report released by Oxfam on 7 June, Footing The Bill: Fair Finance For Loss And Damage In An Era Of Escalating Climate Impacts, the funding required for UN humanitarian appeals linked to extreme weather has risen by over 800% in 20 years. In the past five years, only 54% of loss funding was met on average, causing a funding shortfall of $28-33 billion (around 2.1-2.6 trillion) This is a damning assessment, at a time when diplomats are meeting for the Bonn Climate Conference (6-16 June) to discuss international climate funding.

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While developed countries appear to be stalling on delivering the promised climate finance ($100 billion every year), a UN assessment last October stated that the need for climate finance for developing countries has risen to $5.9 trillion. Bonn will determine the outcome of the COP27 climate summit in Egypt later this year.

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