New U.N. Report Shows Greenhouse Gases Hit an All-time High. Are We Screwed?

Deforestation in the Amazon
Deforestation is changing the Amazon from a carbon sink to a carbon source.Florian Kopp/imageBROKER/Shutterstock

According to a new report from the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), levels of greenhouse gases have never been higher. And despite a temporary reduction of emissions during the pandemic, greenhouse gases continue to increase. On the eve of a U.N. climate change conference in Scotland, the report has a clear message. What countries are doing right now to fight climate change isn’t going to be enough.

When 192 countries signed the Paris climate agreement in 2015, the goal was to keep mean global temperatures below 2˚C (3.6˚F) above pre-industrial levels. Ideally, they would limit any increase to 1.5˚C (2.7˚F). With the rising levels of carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide, those goals are in serious jeopardy.

A fire engine moves through Greenville, California, which was largely destroyed by the Dixie Fire.

New United Nations Climate Report Is in and It's 'Code Red for Humanity'

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The Paris climate agreement is already out of date

“At the current rate of increase in greenhouse gas concentrations, we will see a temperature increase by the end of this century far in excess of the Paris Agreement targets of 1.5 to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels,” WMO Secretary-General Professor Petteri Taalas said in a press release. “We are way off track.”

Increasing temperatures mean more extreme weather. In the U.S., we’re seeing worse fire seasons, poor air quality and, most recently in California, a ‘bomb cyclone.’ Higher temperatures also contribute to ice melt, rising sea levels, and ocean acidification. It’s no wonder that an earlier U.N. climate report called this a ‘code red for humanity.’

For Taalas, the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was particularly troubling.

“This is more than just a chemical formula and figures on a graph. It has major negative repercussions for our daily lives and well-being, for the state of our planet and for the future of our children and grandchildren,” said Taalas.

The WMO report points to the Amazon as one example for the rise in greenhouse gases. In the past, the Amazon has been a carbon sink, absorbing CO2 and helping keep a global carbon balance. But due to decades of deforestation and changing climate, parts of the Amazon are now producing carbon and adding to the problem.

Taalas says many countries are setting carbon neutral targets. But, he hopes the climate change conference will yield bigger changes.

“We need to transform our commitment into action that will have an impact of the gases that drive climate change .We need to revisit our industrial, energy and transport systems and whole way of life. The needed changes are economically affordable and technically possible,” said Taalas. “There is no time to lose.”

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