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Greenhouse Gas Emissions Hit Record High In 2011; Will Remain In Atmosphere For Centuries
November 20, 2012
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Please hold your applause. Here's a World Record we can't cheer for.

Greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere have officially hit a new high.

That's right - according to the UN World Meteorological Organization, the world cranked out more destructive gases in 2011 than ever before.

If this were all for some kind of Celestial World Games, Planet Earth would take home gold medals for each of its major human-made gases.

Of course, it isn't. And our Earth could suffer for it.

Here's a breakdown of our new record breaking gas levels:

Carbon Dioxide - pretty much the biggest climate change culprit - rose to 391 parts per million in 2011.

In 2010, that number was 389. In 2001: 371.

Essentially, CO2 levels keep breaking records every year. And it's now 140 per cent higher than it was at the start of the Industrial Revolution.

Methane - most of which we produce through cattle breeding, rice farming, exploiting fossil fuels, landfill sites and biomass burning.

It reached a new high of 1,813 parts per billion. That's 259 per cent of pre-industrial levels.

Nitrous Oxide moved up 1.0 parts per billion from 2010 to 2011. It's now at 120 per cent of the pre-industrial level.

This gas wreaks havoc on the ozone layer, which protects us from the sun.

The WMO estimates that 375 billion tonnes of carbon have been released into the atmosphere in the past 260 years.

It says about half of that amount is still present in the atmosphere.

"These billions of tonnes of additional carbon dioxide in our atmosphere will remain there for centuries, causing our planet to warm further and impacting on all aspects of life on Earth," said WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud.

"Future emissions will only compound the situation."

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Not only that, but Jarraud said it's becoming more and more unlikely that the world can limit global warming to two degrees Celsius.

"Even if we were able to stop them tomorrow, these greenhouse gases will continue to have an effect for centuries," Jarraud said.

Part of the problem is these gases have nowhere to go. Oceans are known as one of nature's "carbon sinks."

Until now, they've absorbed nearly half of the CO2 we emit. But the WMO warns that these "sinks" are clogging up - they've become more acidic because of the increase in gases.

That threatens marine ecosystems and Jarraud says the oceans' absorbing power "will not necessarily continue in the future."

"We need to boost our monitoring capability and scientific knowledge in order to better understand these."

Another report from the UN Environmental Program says the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is up about 20 per cent since 2000.

The report says emissions levels need to drop by 14 per cent by 2020 for the world to reach its goal of limiting global warming to 2 C.

But it won't happen if countries don't come up with more ambitious plans than what's currently on the table.

UN representatives plan to meet in Doha, Qatar for a new round of climate talks next week.

By the way, if you want to see more uplifting World Records from 2011, check out these emissions-free records here.

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