Latest CO2 data highlights urgency at international climate talks in Bonn

The latest international discussions on climate change have begun in Bonn today with the UN warning that a growing sense of urgency is needed as greenhouse gas emissions are set to reach record levels.

The week-long meeting will look at options towards the 2015 global climate agreement and how to accelerate and catalyse existing climate action.

Delegates will discuss existing options for effective climate action, such as exemplary climate legislation, emissions trading, and how the accelerated deployment of renewable energies can curb greenhouse gas emissions.

The discussions follow data released last week by Scripps Institution of Oceanography, which suggests that concentrations of carbon dioxide in the global atmosphere are approaching 400 parts per million (ppm) for the first time in human history. The daily CO2 level measured at the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii stood at 399.72 ppm.

The data has raised concerns amongst scientists and climate advisors, as many have suggested that in order to meet the planet’s 2 degrees target concentrations of carbon dioxide would need to be below 350 ppm.

Speaking at the opening of the meeting, executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), Christiana Figueres, said: “We are just about to cross the 400 parts per million threshold, hence this conference meets in a heightened sense of urgency”.

The meeting is the second session of the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP), which has been set up to discuss options towards the 2015 global climate agreement and how to accelerate and catalyse existing climate action.

“We must meet the deadlines set by the UNFCCC’s Conference of the Parties. The ADP has already used one third of the time allocated, so we must use the remaining time wisely,” said Figueres.

According to the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, scientists have come to regard the Pliocene era, the era between five million and three million years ago, as the most recent period in history when the atmosphere’s heat-trapping ability was as it is now and “thus our guide for things to come”.

Recent estimates suggest CO2 levels reached as much as 415 ppm during the Pliocene era, which created global average temperatures that eventually reached 3 or 4 degrees Celsius higher than today’s and as much as 10 degrees Celsius warmer at the poles. Sea level ranged between five and 40 meters (16 to 131 feet) higher than today, it says.

Scripps Institution of Oceanography geologist Richard Norris, said the concentration of CO2 is one means of comparison, but what is not comparable, and more significant, is the speed at which 400 ppm is being surpassed today.

“I think it is likely that all these ecosystem changes could recur, even though the time scales for the Pliocene warmth are different than the present.

“The main lagging indicator is likely to be sea level just because it takes a long time to heat the ocean and a long time to melt ice. But our dumping of heat and CO2 into the ocean is like making investments in a pollution ‘bank,’ since we can put heat and CO2 in the ocean, but we will only extract the results (more sea-level rise from thermal expansion and more acidification) over the next several thousand years,” he added.

Leigh Stringer

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie