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UN Warning on Unprecedented Greenhouse Gas Surge


The United Nations has issued a warning, drawing attention to the unprecedented surge in greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere, reaching new records in 2022. The World Meteorological Organization’s (WMO) 19th Annual Greenhouse Gas Bulletin emphasizes the alarming implications of this surge, anticipating increased temperatures, intensified extreme weather events, and elevated sea levels.


GS III: Environment and Ecology

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Major Highlights of the WMO Greenhouse Gas Bulletin
  2. Greenhouse Gases
  3. Major Implications of Rising Greenhouse Gas Concentrations

Major Highlights of the WMO Greenhouse Gas Bulletin

Record-Breaking Levels:

  • Carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide, the primary greenhouse gases, reached unprecedented concentrations, surpassing previous records.
  • Carbon dioxide measured at 418 parts per million, methane at 1,923 parts per billion, and nitrous oxide at 336 parts per billion in 2022.

Exceeding Pre-industrial Levels:

  • These concentrations exceeded pre-industrial levels by 150%, 264%, and 124%, respectively.
  • Carbon dioxide accounts for approximately 64% of the climate warming effect, followed by methane at 16%, and nitrous oxide at 7%.

Paris Agreement Targets Missed:

  • Despite the 2015 Paris Agreement’s goal to limit global warming to below 1.5 degrees Celsius, the global mean temperature in 2022 already surpassed this target, reaching 1.15 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

Grim Trajectory:

  • The current trajectory indicates a future with a significant temperature rise, surpassing the Paris Agreement targets by the end of the century.
  • Anticipated consequences include extreme weather events, ice melt, and ocean acidification.

Escalating Climate Risks:

  • The continuous increase in heat-trapping gases points to a future marked by intensified climate disruptions.
  • Urgent action to reduce fossil fuel consumption is emphasized to mitigate escalating risks.

Critical Tipping Points:

  • The bulletin raises concerns about the climate system nearing critical “tipping points.”
  • Potential irreversible cascades, such as the rapid die-back of the Amazon, North Atlantic circulation slowdown, and destabilization of major ice sheets, are highlighted.

Greenhouse Gases:

Greenhouse gases (GHGs) are naturally occurring and human-generated gases present in the Earth’s atmosphere.


  • GHGs absorb and emit heat, trapping thermal energy within the atmosphere.
  • They act as a thermal blanket, allowing sunlight to enter while preventing a significant portion of absorbed heat from escaping into space.
  • This phenomenon is known as the greenhouse effect, crucial for regulating Earth’s temperature.

Human Impact:

  • Human activities, such as burning fossil fuels, deforestation, and industrial processes, have increased GHG concentrations.
  • This amplifies the greenhouse effect, leading to global warming and climate change.
Major Greenhouse Gases:
  • Carbon Dioxide (CO2):
    • Predominantly emitted from burning fossil fuels for energy.
    • Deforestation reduces carbon sinks, releasing stored carbon.
  • Methane (CH4):
    • Significant contributions from livestock farming and improper waste management.
    • Thawing permafrost releases methane, creating a feedback loop.
  • Nitrous Oxide (N2O):
    • Released through agriculture, particularly from nitrogen-based fertilizers.
  • Water Vapour:
    • Naturally occurring GHG contributing to the greenhouse effect.
Factors Leading to GHG Concentration:
  • Fossil Fuel Burning: Main contributor to CO2 emissions from industrial activities, transportation, and power generation.
  • Deforestation: Reduces carbon sinks, transforming areas like the Amazon rainforest into carbon emitters.
  • Agriculture: Livestock farming generates methane, while nitrogen-based fertilizers contribute to nitrous oxide.
  • Waste Management: Improper waste disposal in landfills produces methane during organic waste decomposition.
  • Natural Processes: Volcanic eruptions, wildfires, and natural decay processes release GHGs.
  • Urban Expansion: Rapid urban growth increases energy demand, vehicular emissions, and infrastructure needs.
  • Permafrost Thaw: Rising temperatures cause permafrost thaw, releasing trapped methane, intensifying global warming.

Major Implications of Rising Greenhouse Gas Concentrations

Intensified Greenhouse Effect:

  • Increased concentrations trap more heat, leading to a warming atmosphere.

Global Warming:

  • Altered weather patterns, rising temperatures, and shifts in precipitation.
  • Droughts, heatwaves, floods, and severe storms become more frequent.

Melting Glaciers and Ice Caps:

  • Contributes to rising sea levels, posing threats to coastal communities, biodiversity, and infrastructure.

Coastal Erosion and Flooding:

  • Rising sea levels result in coastal erosion, increased flooding, and heightened risks to coastal areas.

Agricultural Impacts:

  • Changes in temperature and precipitation patterns affect crop productivity.
  • Crop failures and reduced food security become more prevalent.

Water Scarcity and Excess:

  • Changes in precipitation patterns impact water availability for drinking, agriculture, and industry.
  • Regions experience either water scarcity or excessive rainfall.

Ocean Acidification:

  • Excess CO2 absorbed by oceans leads to acidification, affecting marine life.

Impact on Marine Ecosystems:

  • Acidic waters hinder the ability of marine organisms to build shells and skeletons.
  • Affects coral reefs, shellfish, and plankton—the foundation of marine food chains.

Climate-Induced Displacement:

  • Resource scarcity and competition for habitable areas could lead to geopolitical tensions and conflicts.
  • Particularly in regions facing socio-political instability.

-Source: The Hindu

December 2023