Greenhouse gases soar; no signs warming is slowed

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Heat-trapping greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are building up so high, so fast, that some scientists now think the world can no longer limit global warming to the level world leaders have agreed upon as safe.

New figures from the U.N. weather agency Monday showed that the three biggest greenhouse gases not only reached record levels last year but were increasing at an ever-faster rate, despite efforts by many countries to reduce emissions.

As world leaders meet next week in South Africa to tackle the issue of climate change, several scientists said their projections show it is unlikely the world can hold warming to the target set by leaders just two years ago in Copenhagen.

"The growth rate is increasing every decade," said Jim Butler, director of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Global Monitoring Division. "That's kind of scary."

Scientists can't say exactly what levels of greenhouse gases are safe, but some fear a continued rise in global temperatures will lead to irreversible melting of some of the world's ice sheets and a several-foot rise in sea levels over the centuries - the so-called tipping point.

The findings from the U.N. World Meteorological Organization are consistent with other grim reports issued recently. Earlier this month, figures from the U.S. Department of Energy showed that global carbon dioxide emissions in 2010 jumped by the highest one-year amount ever.

The WMO found that total carbon dioxide levels in 2010 hit 389 parts per million, up from 280 parts per million in 1750, before the start of the Industrial Revolution. Levels increased 1.5 ppm per year in the 1990s and 2.0 per year in the first decade of this century, and are now rising at a rate of 2.3 per year. The top two other greenhouse gases - methane and nitrous oxide - are also soaring.

The U.N. agency cited fossil fuel-burning, loss of forests that absorb CO2 and use of fertilizer as the main culprits.

Since 1990 - a year that international climate negotiators have set as a benchmark for emissions - the total heat-trapping force from all the major greenhouse gases has increased by 29 percent, according to NOAA.

The accelerating rise is happening despite the 1997 Kyoto agreement to cut emissions. Europe, Russia and Japan have about reached their targets under the treaty. But China, the U.S. and India are all increasing emissions. The treaty didn't require emission cuts from China and India because they are developing nations. The U.S. pulled out of the treaty in 2001, the Senate having never ratified it.

While scientists can't agree on what level of warming of the climate is considered dangerous, environmental activists have seized upon 350 parts per million as a target for carbon dioxide levels. The world pushed past that mark more than 20 years ago.

Governments have focused more on projected temperature increases rather than carbon levels. Since the mid-1990s, European governments have set a goal of limiting warming to slightly more than 2 degrees Fahrenheit (1.2 degrees Celsius) above current levels by the end of this century. The goal was part of a nonbinding agreement reached in Copenhagen in 2009 that was signed by the U.S. and other countries.

Temperatures have already risen about 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit (0.8 degrees Celsius) since pre-industrial times.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology professors Ron Prinn, Henry Jacoby and John Sterman said MIT's calculations show the world is unlikely to meet that two-degree goal now.

"There's very, very little chance," Prinn said. "One has to be pessimistic about making that absolute threshold." He added: "Maybe we've waited too long to do anything serious if two degrees is the danger level."

Andrew Weaver at the University of Victoria, Granger Morgan of Carnegie Mellon University and Gregg Marland of Appalachian State University agreed with the MIT analysis that holding warming to two degrees now seems unlikely.

"There's no way to stop it. There's so much inertia in the system," Morgan said. "We've committed to quite a bit of warming."

Prinn said new studies predict that if temperatures increase by more than two degrees, the Greenland ice sheets will start an irreversible melting. And that will add to sea level rise significantly.

"Over the next several centuries, Greenland slowly melts away," Weaver said.

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  • by Nicholas Location: Talahasse on Nov 28, 2011 at 10:47 AM
    Rednecks like the people below are, making lose my faith in humanity. Ps I don't think the rednecks know what the word humanity means.
    • reply
      by Nicholas on Nov 28, 2011 at 11:50 AM in reply to Nicholas
    • reply
      by tom on Nov 29, 2011 at 03:31 AM in reply to Nicholas
      Humanity: Taking care of yourself and your family without taking food and money from other people against their will.........
  • by Rufus Location: Tally on Nov 27, 2011 at 06:00 AM
    What a load of manure.
    • reply
      by Nicholas on Nov 28, 2011 at 10:35 AM in reply to Rufus
      Rednecks like you are why we have problems like global warming.
  • by tom Location: madison on Nov 24, 2011 at 08:20 AM
    Says who? Thousands of scientists and physicists say it's a hoax. Politicians don't have to knowledge to make this claim. The scientists who say global warming is man made have been caught many times lying about the data.
    • reply
      by Dr. GaGa on Nov 25, 2011 at 04:46 AM in reply to tom
      You're right, Tom! Thermometers lie worse than politicians, there are only four continents (like Sarah says) the earth is about 6,000 years old, everybody needs a gun, and why buy foreign oil when we can use ours up first, and buy theirs later when the price will be much cheaper. You da' man!
      • reply
        by nanu nanu on Nov 26, 2011 at 10:15 AM in reply to Dr. GaGa
        Fellow Martians, as you know, Mars is heating up too. Our ice caps are melting. Don't believe the crack-pot "deniers" that the sun is to blame. Please stop driving your Martian SUVs before we suffer the same fate as humans!
      • reply
        by Anonymous on Nov 26, 2011 at 09:11 PM in reply to Dr. GaGa
        Al Gore said ethanol says oil......HAHAHAHA
      • reply
        by Anonymous on Nov 26, 2011 at 09:16 PM in reply to Dr. GaGa
        THERMOMETERS DON'T LIE???????????? No but the guys who write the numbers down have been lying for years to get more grant money and further the liberal socialistic agenda
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