Concentrations of carbon dioxide in the Earth’s atmosphere reached a record high in 2016, according to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO).

Researchers say a combination of the El Niño weather phenomenon and human activities pushed the level of CO2 in the atmosphere to 403.3 parts per million, up from 400ppm in 2015.

The increase in CO2 recorded last year was 50 percent higher than the average for the last decade, and 0.5ppm higher than the previous largest increase during the 1997-1998 El Niño.

Concentrations of CO2 are now 145 percent of those in the pre-industrial era (before 1750) and at a comparable level to a period 2-3 million years ago when the temperature was 2-3°C warmer and sea level was 10-20 meters higher than now.

WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas said:

“Without rapid cuts in CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions, we will be heading for dangerous temperature increases by the end of this century, well above the target set by the Paris climate change agreement. Future generations will inherit a much more inhospitable planet.

“CO2 remains in the atmosphere for hundreds of years and in the oceans for even longer. The laws of physics mean that we face a much hotter, more extreme climate in the future. There is currently no magic wand to remove this CO2 from the atmosphere.”

A separate Emissions Gap Report by UN Environment, due to be released on 31 October, will show that countries need to concentrate their efforts to reduce CO2 emissions and focus move to low carbon technologies.

Erik Solheim, head of UN Environment, said:

“The numbers don’t lie. We are still emitting far too much and this needs to be reversed. The last few years have seen enormous uptake of renewable energy, but we must now redouble our efforts to ensure these new low-carbon technologies are able to thrive. We have many of the solutions already to address this challenge. What we need now is global political will and a new sense of urgency.”

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