CO2 levels are at an all-time high – again

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Even a global pandemic wouldn’t be able to prevent carbon dioxide concentrations from rising. They reached historic levels again in May 2021, the month when scientists compare CO2 concentrations from year to year.

The planet warming carbon dioxide in the atmosphere averaged 419 parts per million in May. according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). That buildup of CO2 is comparable to where it was a little over four million years ago, when the average global temperature was about 7 degrees Fahrenheit hotter and sea levels were as much as 78 feet higher than they are today.

Without much more drastic action, scientists warn, CO2 levels will continue to rise — also bringing the world closer to more inhospitable temperatures and coastal flooding.

“The ultimate control knob for atmospheric CO2 is fossil fuel emissions,” Scripps Oceanography geochemist Ralph Keeling said in a NOAA statement. “Ultimately, we need budget cuts that are much bigger and longer lasting than the COVID-related shutdowns of 2020.”

CO2 pollution decreased by about 6 percent in 2020, when people stayed at home and businesses shut down early in the pandemic. But by the end of last year, pollution was already roaring back. Global emissions from energy consumption were already slightly higher in December 2020 than a year earlier.

2020 was also five years since the adoption of the landmark Paris climate agreement. About Over the past year, governments have been under pressure to step up their commitments to cut greenhouse gas emissions. The world’s current largest carbon polluter, China, said it would stop releasing more emissions than it can absorb or offset by 2060. US President Joe Biden wants to achieve that goal by 2050. But so far, their ambitions have yet to be supported by actions ambitious enough to significantly slow rising CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere.

The effect of the pandemic had no discernible effect on the historic CO2 record, according to NOAA. Back in the late 1950s, Charles David Keeling, (father of Ralph Keeling) was the first scientist to discover that CO2 levels climbing every year despite natural seasonal variations. There is an ebb and flow of CO2 levels based on when plants in the Northern Hemisphere are greenest, when they take up the most CO2, and when they lose their leaves, releasing CO2. Researchers look at CO2 levels in May, when CO2 levels are usually highest during the year.

Every year since 1958, the Keelings and other researchers have documented higher CO2 concentrations in May than the year before.