According to a new report from the World Meteorological Association (WMO), atmospheric levels of the three main greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide) all reached new record highs in 2021, with the largest year-to-year rise of methane concentrations since systematic measurements began four decades ago. While the causes of this staggering rise in methane emissions is not yet clear, the scientists believe that a combination of biological and human-induced processes could have led to this worrisome situation.
“WMO’s Greenhouse Gas Bulletin has underlined, once again, the enormous challenge – and the vital necessity – of urgent action to cut greenhouse gas emissions and prevent global temperatures rising even further in the future,” said Petteri Taalas, WMO’s Secretary-General. “The continuing rise in concentrations of the main heat-trapping gases, including the record acceleration in methane levels, shows that we are heading in the wrong direction.”
Since 2007, atmospheric methane concentrations have been increasing at an unprecedented rate. While scientists argue that the largest contribution to these increases comes from biogenic sources, such as wetlands or rice paddies, anthropogenic climate change could also play a critical role in the rise of methane emissions, due to the fact that, in a warming climate, organic materials decompose faster, and, if this process happens in water – without oxygen – more methane will be released in the atmosphere. Thus, if tropical wetlands become wetter and warmer due to human-induced climate change, they will emit more methane.
“There are cost-effective strategies available to tackle methane emissions, especially from the fossil fuel sector, and we should implement these without delay,” said Professor Taalas. “However, methane has a relatively short lifetime of less than ten years and so its impact on climate is reversible. As the top and most urgent priority, we have to slash carbon dioxide emissions which are the main driver of climate change and associated extreme weather, and which will affect climate for thousands of years through polar ice loss, ocean warming, and sea level rise.”
“We need to transform our industrial, energy and transport systems and whole way of life. The needed changes are economically affordable and technically possible. Time is running out,” he concluded.
The 2021 Greenhouse Gas Bulletin can be found here.
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