Scientists call for action to tackle CO2 levels

Coal power station and wind turbines The last time CO2 was regularly above 400ppm was three to five million years ago

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Scientists are calling on world leaders to take action on climate change after carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere broke through a symbolic threshold.

Daily CO2 readings at a US government agency lab on Hawaii have topped 400 parts per million for the first time.

Sir Brian Hoskins, the head of climate change at the UK-based Royal Society, said the figure should "jolt governments into action".

China and the US have made a commitment to co-operate on clean technology.

But BBC environment analyst Roger Harrabin said the EU was backing off the issue, and cheap fossil fuels looked attractive to industries.

The laboratory, which sits on the Mauna Loa volcano, feeds its numbers into a continuous record of the concentration of the gas stretching back to 1958.

'Sense of urgency'

Carbon dioxide is regarded as the most important of the manmade greenhouse gases blamed for raising the temperature on the planet over recent decades.

Human sources come principally from the burning of fossil fuels such as coal, oil and gas.

Ministers in the UK have claimed global leadership in reducing CO2 emissions and urged other nations to follow suit.

Sir Brian John Hoskins Sir Brian Hoskins said a greater sense of urgency was needed

But the official Climate Change Committee (CCC) last month said that Britain's total contribution towards heating the climate had increased, because the UK is importing goods that produce CO2 in other countries.

The last time CO2 was regularly above 400ppm was three to five million years ago - before modern humans existed.

Scientists say the climate back then was also considerably warmer than it is today.

Professor Sir Brian Hoskins, director of the Grantham Institute for Climate Change at Imperial College London, said a greater sense of urgency about tackling climate change was needed.

"Before we started influencing the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, over the last million years it went between about 180 and 280 parts per million," he said.

"Now, since the Industrial Revolution and more in the last 50 years, we've taken that level up by more than 40% to a level of 400 and that hasn't been seen on this planet for probably four million years.

"But around the world, there are things happening, it's not all doom and gloom," he added.

"China is doing a lot. Its latest five year plan makes really great strides."

China's plan for 2011-2015 includes reversing the damage done by 30 years of growth and increasing the use of renewable energy.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 55.

    so cut down on imports and don't build a new airport for London, have business meetings by internet.

  • rate this

    Comment number 54.

    £34 Billion a year in emmisions taxes with £4B spent... who / what on ?
    I guess Climate Change Committee Quangos & its associates.
    What happens to the other £30 billion then ?

    30.Anna Next
    1850 was a very cold year to base any trend on
    Temps are starting to drop now even tho CO2 increasing.
    So wheres the link.
    Its still an unproven Hypothisis opinion only

  • rate this

    Comment number 53.

    Crosiing the 400 ppm threshold in the last 3 to 4 million years, is an omninous sign for the future, but the entrenched human avidity seems to have non of this thresholld.

  • rate this

    Comment number 52.

    CaptainJack: Head, sand...

    It's the pace of change we are bringing, and because it's an 'un-natural' process, there's nothing to counter it...trouble is, most people that will starve, die, or be driven into absolute poverty, will be non-white, non-European or NA...therefore no action.

  • rate this

    Comment number 51.

    What! And give up all the things we have become accustomed to. Methinks the scientists are asking too much. Mankind, especially the west, are far too selfish to worry about what will happen in the future and far too stupid to do anything about it now.

  • rate this

    Comment number 50.


    Pretty arbitrary, but the time for action has already past for years. The longer we wait in complacency the worse it will be for your children.

  • rate this

    Comment number 49.

    We have known this for many years when O when will governments seriously start moving us away from a hydro carbon based economy? learn the lessons from the sun and generate Nuclear power invest in battery technology and electric forms of transportation Necessity the mother of invention we need a major development but with Oil companies occupying 5 of the top 10 places where is the incentive?

  • rate this

    Comment number 48.

    Most importantly, who agrees with me that the Day After Tomorrow is better than "2012".

  • rate this

    Comment number 47.

    Since the concept of correlation not being causation broadly has left the human cranium, the only solution is to eliminate half of the human race. There are just too many of you-the easy answer to this non-existent problem is to return everyone with an even National Identification number back to the environment. You know who you are, please proceed to the nearest cliff and make your contribution.

  • rate this

    Comment number 46.

    38. andyg - There's no such thing as a true free market. It's a utopia that simply cannot be sustained. Even if they system starts out to be a free market it will always be corrupted as one of the players within the market grows bigger than the rest. Then that company can monopolise the market. So, freemarket capitalism will always lead to crony capitalism.

  • rate this

    Comment number 45.

    Climate change, yes, all the time. Man made climate change? No chance. Consensus amongst scientists? Rubbish! Only consensus is among those whose grants depend on them supporting man made climate change. According to recent papers by Russian scientists we could well be heading into serious global cooling. Start racing your Range Rovers!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 44.

    1. Its a fact about rising CO2 concentrations in the air
    2. We have been here before - 3 million years ago
    3. Our life style probably contributes to rising levels

    The problem is none of us can predict the outcomes. The pace of change is slow in the context of human life span but widely opposing opinions ruin any chance of a sensible global agreement. Check the variety of comments to come!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 43.


    Don't you think it's about time?
    Dragging the rest of the world down with them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 42.

    17. andyg
    Such a thing already exists, it's the molten thorium reactor (LFTR) and could probably be made commercial within a decade
    Indeed & with a much shorter half-life and no fissile material it makes for a cleaner, safer alternative to uranium/plutonium. Why we are not funding research into Thorium reactors is beyond me. I guess we just have to hope for a breakthrough from China or the US.

  • rate this

    Comment number 41.


    Good point & if we consider that all our efforts(to date) to reduce carbon dioxide on a global scale are a complete waste of time. Ice core samples show that this has happened countless times through the eons.
    Capitalism does not care about global issues but will happily use environmental scare tactics the increase the cost of utilities, fuel etc.

  • rate this

    Comment number 40.

    According to a treasury spokesperson "it's much cheaper to buy in oil and gas while while also diversifying our fossil fuel range with the new carbon source of fracking than to build some more nuclear power stations and actually live up to the deal we signed at kyoto"

  • Comment number 39.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 38.

    12.FR_Andrew, what you're describing is not true free market capitalism though, it's crony-capitalism we have now. In a free market people would be held accountable for the damage/pollution the do to any property extending beyond their own. Also you wouldn't have the compulsory acquisitions of land on behalf of the large mining and oil companies in a free-market, it would all have to be voluntary.

  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    Scientist afraid they may lose their jobs, if they don't scare the public into more taxes to cut down of so call climate change. A load of old flannel!

  • rate this

    Comment number 36.

    I beleive that trees use Co2. Surely the solution is twofold.
    Firstly, reduce the felling of trees in the Amazon by rentig parts of the jungle, therefore reducing the need for Brazil to propagate the land.
    Secondly, a controlled, tree planting programme on a worldwide scale. Even if it means paying farmers to farm trees on their land.


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