New Delhi: Concentration of carbon dioxide in the earth’s atmosphere rose at a record-breaking speed in 2016 to reach the highest level in 800,000 years, a report by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said. The development, it said, has the potential to initiate unprecedented changes in climate systems, causing severe ecological and economic disruptions.

The WMO’s ‘Greenhouse Gas Bulletin’, released on Monday, said the abrupt changes in the atmosphere witnessed in the past 70 years are without precedent.

As per the report, globally averaged concentrations of CO2 reached 403.3 parts per million (ppm) in 2016 up from 400.00 ppm in 2015 because of a combination of human activities and a strong El Niño event. Concentrations of CO2 are now 145% of pre-industrial (before 1750) levels.

The report emphasized that the last time the Earth experienced a comparable concentration of carbon dioxide was 3-5 million years ago when the temperature was 2-3°C warmer and sea level was 10-20 meters higher than now.

It warned that rapidly increasing atmospheric levels of CO2 and other greenhouse gases have the potential to initiate unprecedented changes in climate systems, leading to severe ecological and economic disruptions.

It underlined factors like population growth, intensified agricultural practices, increases in land use and deforestation, industrialization and associated energy use from fossil fuel behind the unprecedented increases in concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere since the industrial era, beginning in 1750.

According to the report, the rate of increase of atmospheric carbon dioxide over the past 70 years is nearly 100 times more than that at the end of the last ice age.

Methane, another major greenhouse gas, reached a new high of about 1853 parts per billion (ppb) in 2016 and is now 257% of the pre-industrial level.

The levels of nitrous oxide, another greenhouse gas, too reached new highs. Its atmospheric concentration in 2016 was 328.9 parts per billion which is 122% of pre-industrial levels.

“Without rapid cuts in CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions, we will be heading for dangerous temperature increases by the end of this century, well above the target set by the Paris climate change agreement. Future generations will inherit a much more inhospitable planet," said WMO secretary-general Petteri Taalas in an official statement.

“CO2 remains in the atmosphere for hundreds of years and in the oceans for even longer. The laws of physics mean that we face a much hotter, more extreme climate in the future. There is currently no magic wand to remove this CO2 from the atmosphere," he added.

The report comes ahead of the UN climate change negotiations that are scheduled to be held from 7-17 November in Bonn, Germany.

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