Record Levels of Greenhouse Gases Threaten Global Economy
Policy + Politics

Record Levels of Greenhouse Gases Threaten Global Economy

In a troubling new study that underscores the growing threat of global warming to the environment and international economy, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said Tuesday that heat-trapping carbon dioxide hit record levels in 2013.

The volume of carbon dioxide, the principal greenhouse gas that is emitted by industry, automobiles and other man-made activities, was 396.0 parts per million in 2013 – or 2.9 parts per million higher than in 2012. It was the largest year-over- year increase since 1984, when dependable global records first began.

Related: Obama Fights Global Warming, One Hot Spot at a Time   

Scientists have long warned about the dangers of an unabated buildup in the atmosphere of carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and other greenhouse gases in terms of mounting temperatures and the threats of rising sea levels, drought and powerful storms.

The latest figures from the WMO’s monitoring network “are considered particularly significant” because of unprecedented buildup or concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere that are immune to natural dissipation, The Washington Post reported today.

In the past, about half of the human-generated pollution has been absorbed by the oceans and by terrestrial plants – a natural phenomenon that kept temperatures “from rising as quickly as they otherwise would.” Oksana Tarasova, a scientist and chief of WMO’s Global Atmospheric Watch Program, told The Post, “If the oceans and the biosphere cannot absorb as much carbon, the effect on the atmosphere could be much worse.”

The new carbon dioxide figures are considered highly reliable because they’re based on air samples collected near the North and South Poles, over the oceans and in other areas far from cities and other areas that generate high levels of carbon emissions.

Related: How Far Will Obama Go to Stop Global Warming?

“We know without any doubt that our climate is changing and our weather is becoming more extreme due to human activities such as the burning of fossil fuels,” WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud said in a statement accompanying the WMO’s annual Greenhouse Gas Bulletin. “Past, present and future CO2 emissions will have a cumulative impact on both global warming and ocean acidification. The laws of physics are non-negotiable.”

The annual report was issued just ahead of a climate summit of world leaders at this year’s United Nations General Assembly meetings in New York, The Post reported.  President Obama is scheduled to meet with leaders of dozens of other countries on Sept. 23 to discuss ways to reduce industrial emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions.

Obama failed early in his first term to strike a deal with Republicans and some conservative Democrats on measures to combat global warming, such as “cap and trade.” Since then, the president has moved unilaterally with a series of executive orders and Environmental Protection Agency regulations to try to reduce emissions from coal-fired power plants, automobiles and other sources of greenhouse gas emissions. 

In the wake of recent killer hurricanes, droughts, and rising sea levels, scientists and economists are beginning to focus more on the serious economic and environmental consequences of unmitigated rises in global carbon emissions.

Related: Obama Risks the U.S. Economy for a 1.8 Percent Reduction in CO   

Among the greatest threats outlined recently by the Union of Concerned Scientists:

Damage to property and infrastructure. A rise in sea level, flooding, droughts, wildfires, and extreme storms “require extensive repair of essential infrastructure such as homes, roads, bridges, railroad tracks, airport runways, power lines, dams, levees, and seawalls,” the group stated.

Lost productivity. Disruptions linked to climate change “can mean lost work and school days and harm trade, transportation, agriculture, fisheries, energy production, and tourism,” the group said. Moreover, heavy rainfall and winter storms can delay planting and harvesting, cause power outages, create traffic jams and delay air travel. “Climate-related health risks also reduce productivity, such as when extreme heat curtails construction, or when more potent allergies and more air pollution lead to lost work and school days.”

Mass migration and security threats. Global warming is likely to increase the number of   “climate refugees”—or families that are forced to leave their homes because of drought, flooding, or other climate-related disasters. 

Related: The High Cost of Droughts Around the World

One case in point was Hurricane Sandy, which battered the Caribbean and the eastern coast of the U.S. in October 2012 – destroying or severely damaging 1.8 million homes and structures with economic losses exceeding $65 billion.

Some experts have pegged global warming’s current drag on the global economy at $1 trillion or more – but they say the figure will soar as the problem becomes more serious and widespread. 

Scientists who met in Japan recently to finalize a new United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate change (IPCC) report on climate impacts and vulnerabilities said that it is “difficult” to make long-term projections of that sort, according to The Atlantic. “The closest they came to an overall number was to say that aggregate losses across the world economy have a more than 50 percent chance of being greater than 2 percent of global GDP,” said the publication.  

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