CO2 in the atmosphere with decade trendlines, 1960-2017. Data are from NOAA. Dotted lines are decade trends continued out to 2030. Graphic: Barry Saxifrage / National Observer / VisualCarbon.org

By Barry Saxifrage
10 April 2017

(National Observer) – The primary driver of global warming, disruptive climate changes and ocean acidification is the ever-increasing amount of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere.

Despite decades of global efforts towards climate policies, clean energy and efficiency, CO2 levels continue to rise and are actually accelerating upward. For those of us hoping for signs of climate progress, this most critical and basic climate data is bitter news indeed. It shows humanity racing ever more rapidly into a full-blown crisis for both our climate and our oceans.

That's the story told by the newest CO2 data released by the United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Let's take a look. […]

NOAA's press release highlighted the "unprecedented" CO2 rise in last two years.

The scientists also pointed out that 2016 "was a record fifth consecutive year that carbon dioxide (CO2) rose by 2 ppm or greater." Those last five years also broke a new record by exceeding +2.5 ppm per year for the first time. […]

So far we've only been looking at annual increases in the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. It's an important metric to evaluate whether we're making any progress against climate pollution. But what actually drives the greenhouse effect is the total amount that has accumulated in our atmosphere over time. So let's take a look at that.

Here's my next chart [above] showing atmospheric carbon dioxide as a solid blue line. Just for interest, I've also included a series of dotted lines showing how quickly CO2 was increasing in each of the last few decades. I've extended each of those out to 2030 so you can see at a glance how the CO2 curve keeps bending relentlessly upward, decade after decade.

Accelerating toward the 450 ppm 'guardrail'

Every major nation in the world has agreed that climate change must be limited to a maximum of +2oC in global warming. Beyond that point we risk destabilizing droughts, floods, mega-storms, heat waves, food shortages, climate extremes and irreversible tipping points. The best climate science says that staying below +2oC means we can't exceed 450 ppm of CO2.

At the top of the chart I've highlighted this critical climate 'guardrail' of 450 ppm as a red line.

Notice how much faster we are approaching that danger line as the decades go by. Back in 1970, it seemed we had more than a century and a half to get a grip on climate pollution because CO2 was increasing much more slowly. But at our current rate we will blow through that guardrail in just 18 years. And, as we've seen, our "current rate" keeps accelerating.

Our foot-dragging at reducing climate pollution has left us in a dangerous situation with little time left to act. We've spent decades accelerating CO2 emissions to unprecedented extremes. We've blown our chance to deal gracefully with the climate and ocean crisis. [more]

Atmospheric CO2 levels accelerate upwards, smashing records

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