DISCUSSION Carbon Dioxide Level Passes Milestone

by Yolanda Villafuerte _______14th May 2013

Heat-Trapping Gas Passes Milestone, Raising Fears 

Initiatives to control carbon emissions have so far been alarmingly insufficient. A study this month has shown that the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere reached the highest level since the epoch of Pliocene, 3 million years ago. On Thursday, at 8p.m. Eastern Daylight Time, the concentration of carbon dioxide around the volcano Mauna Loa, in Hawaii, hit 400ppm (parts per million). Mauna Lao Observatory has been collecting climate change data since the 1950s when Charles David Keeling, began to monitor carbon dioxide. Back in 1950s, Dr. Keeling found a concentration of 315ppm CO2. His analysis led to a graph, known as Keeling Curve, which reveals a constant, long-term increase of carbon dioxide levels in Earth’s atmosphere.

Carbon dioxide follows a seasonal cycle. The level peaks just before summer and then falls below 400ppm as it is absorbed by the leaf growth in the northern hemisphere. The level of CO2 has been constant for the entire period of human civilization, but it has been increasing since Industrial Revolution began. Now, the path on which it is on is the highest it has ever been.

Climate scientists agree that a continuing increase of carbon dioxide concentration in the air could be catastrophic for the world’s biosystems in the next few decades. Many scientists believe that we have passed the threshold of managable climate change. Mark Pagani, a Yale geochemist stated that “…the time to do something was yesterday.”

The ultimate issue is that climate change is a challenge than transcends national borders –  a market failure that requires full international cooperation to address. The efforts for climate change mitigation are consistently undermined by the largest emitters, China and the United States who refuse to agree on binding agreements on national maximum levels of CO2 emissions. Scientists point out that the consequences of inaction will have serious impact on economic activity through increasing food prices as a result of smaller and unpredictable yields, an increase in water and air-borne disease, supply chain disruptions, an increase in commodity and energy prices, changing spending patterns and damage to infrastructure by extreme weather events.

Sign-up to our mailing list to receive all our latest discussions, publications and events.