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

Related Stories

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.


More on This Story

Related Stories

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites


This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
  • rate this

    Comment number 155.

    CO2 levels have been far higher in the past than they are now - and we had nothing to do with it, and guess what, life on earth continued and it is still going strong. The ice core records, some going back 900 000 years show that when temperature went up in the past CO2 followed it by an average of 800 years. We are being fed politicized science.

  • rate this

    Comment number 154.

    Sadly, because of people qualified as, claiming to be still, and reputed as scientists, putting forth non-science in its guise, (to suit their vested-interest paymasters), we, the general public have a problem.

    Here's an example of what happened, after US grown rice was shown to have high As levels:

  • rate this

    Comment number 153.

    @83 You're an idiot. For such a small population 2% of the global output of CO2 is quite high.

    Population of UK: Roughly 63,000,000
    Population of World: 7,000,000,000+

    UK Population in percentage from World Population = 0.9%

    Learn about statistics. They dictate a lot in your life. They can be interpreted in many ways.

  • rate this

    Comment number 152.

    134 BLACK_PEARL - You seem confused as to how this works. It's not a measure of how much warmer than 1850 we are, but rather an increase over time. Cherrypicking one specific date is what the dishonest denialists do, particularly with the "No GW since '98" argument.

    And why do you persist with this nonsense about low numbers? It just shows what a tiny knowledge of chemistry you have.

  • rate this

    Comment number 151.

    It is clear to me that the best solution to the problem is praying. I estimate that if 80% or more of all living human beings would pray non-stop, without eating or drinking, to whichever deity they thought was most likely to help, for forty days and forty nights, the problem would almost certainly be solved!

  • rate this

    Comment number 150.

    Amazing, we even have people denying basic physics on the properties of CO2, which traps heat as an insulator, even at these seemingly-low proportions. Here's an experiment run using actual atmospheric levels of CO2 and Methane showing increase temperatures over a steady control.

  • rate this

    Comment number 149.

    Just waiting for someone to actually say in a news report "...since records began 5,000,000 years ago.' What a load of rubbish!

    And they say the 'blind faith' of Christians is a nonsense.

  • rate this

    Comment number 148.


  • rate this

    Comment number 147.

    'A History of Solar Activity over Millennia', by IG Usoskin, points to solar activity as being the primary driver of climate change.

  • rate this

    Comment number 146.

    Drunken Hobo
    6 Minutes ago

    107 Gordon
    "Ah ridicule, the last bastion of the hard of thinking."

    Right, but calling someone "hard of thinking" is a mature and inteligent argument?
    I didn't call you this merely made a comment that ridicule was an easy way out. Not aimed at you, unless......

  • rate this

    Comment number 145.

    Re:128. Human progress? The wealth of the world is more concentrated in the hands of the few than ever before. We are systematically destroying the planet's ecosystem to service an ever increasing population. How long do you think this situation can continue? The current economic situation is just an insignificant precursor if we continue to squeeze every ounce out of a finite resource

  • rate this

    Comment number 144.

    As I remember from around the year 2000 a scientist said that if we ever passed 400 parts of CO2 per million, we would be facing a planetry disaster, no less than global mass extinction of species. Isn't it time to act?

  • rate this

    Comment number 143.

    Frank West
    If we are to cut down on CO2 we need to have a reliable, better public transport system and a renewable energy system. "

    Like many, you seem to think that "public transport" somehow does not produce any "emissions". Of course it does, and as it often fails to take people where they really want to go, there has to be some other transport at the end of the journey anyway.

  • rate this

    Comment number 142.

    Sadly, until climate change is economical to worry about nothing will be done. Politicians will spout rhetoric but do nothing until it pays.

  • rate this

    Comment number 141.

    Unfortunately all of the coal, oil and gas will get burned at some point. We may as well just burn it now. At least then we would HAVE to invest in renewable technology and nuclear fusion, rather than just pretend and squeeze tax out of the public.

  • rate this

    Comment number 140.


    That hardly empirical evidence is it? how about providing the statistics for the last 10 million years? methinks you are presenting your 'perceived truth' rather than the actual truth which even our most brilliant scientist don't know..
    Environmentalist are the King Canutes of the modern age: )

  • rate this

    Comment number 139.

    137 Bill Walker. Absolutely right. Would not expect much change until our own MPs pay their fuel bills out of their generous salary instead of claiming them in 'allowances' as they do now.

  • rate this

    Comment number 138.

    We're all doooooomed!

  • rate this

    Comment number 137.

    Our tiny country is being squeezed to the bone to try to make up for the massive pollution emitted by China and the U.S. It just isn't going to happen until the Chinese stop pumping out the filth from their poor quality brown coal chimneys and the Americans stop driving 200 metres to their local store.

  • rate this

    Comment number 136.

    #98 "reached 400 ppm from 280 ppm, scientific fact. The ONLY way this could have happened is by human interference. Scientific fact."

    Not ONLY way! The last time CO2 was regularly above 400ppm was three to five million years ago when we were not here so your "fact" is in fact not a fact at all.


Page 28 of 35


More Science & Environment stories



Copyright © 2015 BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.