Red alert on hotter Earth as CO2 levels hit record high

EARTH… GETTING HOTTER

* Climate change already killing people, hurting their health, worsening air pollution, helping spread of infectious diseases
* Meteorological Organisation warns increase could fuel 20 metre rise in sea levels, add 3°C to global temperatures
* Tropical forests reducing carbon emissions from deforestation by 33%, slowing rate of global warming, researchers find

The United Nations World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) has raised the alarm that the planet is getting hotter than ever before and is more prone to natural disasters like flooding, hurricanes and tsunami as the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the Earth’s atmosphere grew at a record rate in 2016 to a level not seen for millions of years.

The UN agency warns that this increase could fuel a staggering 20-metre rise in sea levels and add 3 degree Celsius (°C) to temperatures.

The WMO said in its annual Greenhouse Gas Bulletin that atmospheric concentrations of CO2, the main man-made greenhouse gas, hit 403.3 parts per million (ppm) in 2016, up from 400.0 in 2015.

That growth rate was 50 per cent faster than the average over the past decade, driving CO2 levels 45 per cent above pre-industrial levels and further outside the range of 180-280 ppm seen in recent cycles of ice ages and warmer periods.

Also, a global team of researchers said Monday that climate change is already killing people, hurting their health, worsening air pollution and helping the spread of infectious diseases.

The Lancet Countdown on Health and Climate Change found that environmental disruptions are also affecting economies and costing hundreds of billions of dollars a year, mostly because of extreme weather events.

Also, another new study, published in the journal Scientific Reports, showed that the national parks and nature reserves in South America, Africa and Asia are reducing carbon emissions from tropical deforestation by a third, helping to slow the rate of global warming.

Experts hope the findings will encourage environment ministers around the world to work on new guidelines for the Paris climate accord.

The WMO said: “Today’s CO2 concentration of ~400 ppm exceeds the natural variability seen over hundreds of thousands of years.”

The latest data adds to the urgency of a meeting in Bonn next month, when environment ministers from around the world will work on guidelines for the Paris climate accord backed by 195 countries in 2015.

The agreement is already under pressure because United States (US President Donald Trump has said he plans to pull the US out of the deal, which seeks to limit the rise in temperatures to ‘well below’ 2°C (3.6°F) above pre-industrial times.

The WMO said Human CO2 emissions from sources such as coal, oil, cement and deforestation reached a record in 2016, and the El Niño weather pattern gave CO2 levels a further boost.

Since 1990, the global warming effect of CO2 and other long-lived greenhouse gases has risen by 40 per cent. The two other main gases – methane and nitrous oxide – also grew to record concentrations last year, although at a slower rate of increase than carbon dioxide.

The Lancet, an international medical journal, wrote: “Between 2000-2016, there has been a 46 percent increase in the number of weather-related disasters, and 125 million adults aged over 65 were exposed to heat waves.

The report warns: “Increasing temperatures have led to around 5.3 percent loss in labor productivity, and economic losses linked to climate-related extreme weather events were estimated at $129 billion in 2016. It may already be too late to stop warming trends that are driving the changes.”

“The human symptoms of climate change are unequivocal and potentially irreversible — affecting the health of populations around the world today,” it read.

“The delayed response to climate change over the past 25 years has jeopardized human life and livelihoods,” it added.

But quicker action to address the change could make life better for many people, the team of climate scientists, doctors, ecologists, economists, engineers, experts in energy, food, and transport systems, geographers, mathematicians, social and political scientists found.

“We cannot simply adapt our way out of this, but need to treat both the cause and the symptoms of climate change,” said Hugh Montgomery, director of the Institute for Human Health and Performance at University College London, who helped lead the collaboration.

Some of the recommendations of The Lancet:
*Invest in climate change and public health research
*Scale up financing for climate-resilient health systems
*Phase out coal-fired power
*Rapidly expand access to renewable energy

Meanwhile, the study, published in the journal Scientific Reports, found that tropical forests are preventing the release of three times as much carbon into the atmosphere as the United Kingdom (UK) emits each year.

Protected areas, which account for 20 per cent of the world’s tropical forest, also play a crucial role in providing habitats for species including orangutans, forest elephants and Asiatic lions, and they also conserve world heritage sites such as the Incan ruins of Machu Picchu in Peru.

The study, published in the journal Scientific Reports, was an audit of the role that protected areas of tropical forest play in preventing global warming.

The research, by the University of Exeter and University of Queensland in Australia, involved analyzing the likely level of tree loss in protected area – and the resulting carbon emission – had they not been protected from deforestation.

It shows that protected forests and preventing millions of tonnes of carbon emissions from being lost through logging and deforestation.

According to the researchers, it’s the first study to analyze the impact of all protected areas of tropical forest on reducing carbon emissions.

Tropical forests account account for about 68 per cent of global forest carbon stock – including trees, canopy and root systems.

According to a new study, from 2000 to 2012, tropical protected areas reduced carbon emissions by 407 million tonnes per year, equivalent to 1492 million tonnes of CO2 per year.

The areas accounted for different amounts of reductions in carbon dioxide emissions:
*Protected forest area in South America – including Brazil – prevented 368.8 million tonnes of carbon per year being released between 2000 and 2012.
*In Asia, protected areas of forest, including nature reserves protecting animals such as tigers and orangutans, stopped 25 million tonnes of carbon per year being released.
*Protected areas of forest in Africa, including reserves to protect lowland mountain gorillas, saved 12.7 million tonnes of carbon per year, which would have been released had the areas not been protected from being cleared.

But rainforests are under logging and clearing pressure to produce cash crops such as pasture land for cattle in South America, and palm oil in South East Asia, while in Africa, tropical forests are being cleared for agriculture and charcoal production for local cooking.

However, these activities come at a cost: deforestation releases nearly twice as much carbon than is absorbed by intact forests.

For the study, ecologists analyzed the carbon stocks and losses of millions of hectares of protected areas such as national parks, world heritage sites, reserves for indigenous people, tourist sites and areas to protect endangered species.

According to The Lancet report, there is been little doubt that these weather effects are hurting health. Catastrophic weather evens such as floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, droughts and heat waves kill people directly. But warming trends have also allowed mosquitoes to thrive. For instance, the Aedes aegypti mosquito that spreads dengue, Zika and yellow fever, among other viruses, is finding more places to live.

Air pollution involving certain fine particles has increased by 11 percent since 1990, the report found. More than 70 percent of cities monitored by the World Health Organization exceed the recommended levels of these pollutants, the report found.

“(The report) also shows that tackling climate change directly, unequivocally and immediately improves global health,” said Christiana Figueres, former executive secretary of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change.

“Most countries did not embrace these opportunities when they developed their climate plans for the Paris Agreement,” said Figueres. “We must do better. When a doctor tells us we need to take better care of our health we pay attention, and it’s important that governments do the same.”

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