Our planet is about to reach a “deadly milestone” this year: 2021 will see carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere at 50 percent higher than before the Industrial Revolution. The new forecast by the UK Met Office says that the concentrations of CO2 will be around 2.29 parts per million (ppm) higher in 2021 than in 2020 at the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii. This means that from April to June the atmospheric density will exceed 417 ppm and will be 50 percent higher than the level of 278 ppm seen in the late 18th century before the Industrial Revolution.
The last global carbon dioxide level was consistently above 400 ppm about 400 million years ago, at a time when the earth was heated by about 3 degrees Celsius (5.4 degrees Fahrenheit) and sea levels were much higher than they are today. Dr. Heather Graven, reader in Climate Physics at the Grantham Institute – Climate Change and the Environment, Imperial College London, commented, “This is a more serious milestone in the relentless rise of atmospheric CO2 concentrations.” The concentration of carbon dioxide briefly reached 417 ppm at the seasonal peak of 2020, but this new forecast indicates that it will hit this record in 2021 for several weeks.
Carbon dioxide is the primary greenhouse gas that traps heat in the Earth’s atmosphere, causing global warming. Some are produced by natural processes, but it spreads in significant quantities from fossil fuels and forest upstream fuels. Compared to other greenhouse gases such as methane it remains very stable and can remain stable in the atmosphere for thousands of years. This is one of the reasons why the recent emission from the Covid-19 lockdown has no real effect on the overall condition of the planet.
Professor Richard Betts MBE, who leads the production of the Met Office’s annual CO2 forecast, said in a statement, “Since CO2 stays in the atmosphere for a very long time; each year’s emissions add up from previous years and increase the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere.” “Although the Covid-19 epidemic means that CO2 emissions worldwide were down 100 percent in 2020 compared to previous years, which further increased the ongoing formation in the atmosphere,” Professor Bates added. “Emissions are now almost back to pre-epidemic levels, but the effects of this year’s strong natural sinking due to La Nana will remain partially damp for some time.”
The Hawaii observation site is used as a global background reference for carbon dioxide in the atmosphere due to its height and remote location. Carbon dioxide concentrations have been measured here since 1958, recording the longest continuous measurement of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Over the course of these six decades, carbon dioxide levels have risen steadily over the years as a whole.
Professor Grant Allen, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Manchester, who was not involved in this new forecast explained, “Overall, it tells us that we continue to emit more CO2 than we can absorb in the natural environment and that even under favorable natural conditions, CO2 concentrations (and therefore global warming) will continue to increase.” Allen said, “We urgently need to strike this balance.” “Emissions reductions policies must continue at speed.”