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Carbon dioxide levels reach historic high as Joe Biden calls world leaders to climate talks

Saturday April 10, 2021 - 22:49 EST
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Mauna Loa Observatory measured a record CO2 concentration of 421 parts per million last weekend. - ABC

Carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere reached a milestone 421 parts per million last weekend, the highest concentration in 3.6 million years according to the .

"It's halfway now between the pre-industrial level of CO2 in the atmosphere [280 parts per million] and a doubling of CO2 in the atmosphere. So that's quite profound," said Professor Andy Pitman, the Director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate Extremes.

"It took 80 years to do half of that work and 30 years to do the second half of that. And we know for sure that's to do with emissions of greenhouse gases primarily by human activity."

Without a reduction in emissions, scientists predict CO2 concentrations will double to 560 parts per million ? likely between 2060 and 2080 ? locking in an average warming of between 2.3 and 4.5 degrees Celsius with temperature extremes double that or higher.

"The difference between the warm periods on Earth and the cold periods on Earth is 100 parts per million of carbon dioxide," said Professor Mark Howden, the director of the Institute for Climate, Energy and Disaster Solutions at the Australian National University. 

"What we've already done to the atmosphere is proportional to the change that's associated with an ice age. And an ice age fundamentally changes the face of the earth."

World leaders to meet to talk climate

The milestone comes ahead of a new international push to take stronger action on climate change, led by the Biden administration in the United States.

President Joe Biden has invited Scott Morrison alongside 39 other heads of government to the Leaders Summit on Climate in two weeks time.

Both Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping have been invited.

that the virtual summit was an attempt to galvanise efforts by the major economies to tackle what it described as a climate crisis.

The Biden administration has also said it would announce a sweeping carbon mitigation strategy ahead of the summit.

"The Biden administration is really serious about climate action," Professor Leslie Hughes, climate scientist and deputy vice-chancellor at Macquarie University, said.

"They've got people like John Kerry as their climate envoy spearheading action. And now the EU and the UK in particular have come up with very strong interim emissions targets by 2030.

"[They] are now really putting pressure on countries like Australia."

Three degrees warning

ahead of the summit warning of the risks to Australia of a three-degrees-warmer world, saying deep cuts in global emissions now could keep global warming below two degrees.

"Carbon dioxide emissions and other greenhouse gases, which are produced by human activity, can also be reduced by human activity," Mark Howden, one of the authors of the report, said.

"There is a high level of control that we can exert and particularly where we have existing technologies that can be rolled out to do this such as solar PV, wind, and electric vehicles."

Professor Howden said both the Biden administration and the European Union Parliament had both discussed the possibility of imposing a carbon border tax, which would require exporters to pay a charge on goods from what the as "less climate-ambitious countries".

"I think it's a very potent weapon," Professor Howden said.

"The way Australia would have to do to deal with it is either suck it up in terms of having more expensive exports, or put a price on emissions domestically."


© ABC 2021

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