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 195.

    Ice-core CO2 consistently follows temperature, making CAGW as plausible as a pink-unicorn stampede. For those who feel public-sector science has an essential role in prosperous and peaceful society, the shilling of these "scientists" is shameful and stupid.

  • rate this

    Comment number 194.

    It is possibly not in the best interests of an organization called the Grantham Institute for Climate Change for nothing of any significance to be happening.

  • rate this

    Comment number 193.

    Most people don't believe in global warming especially as we have yet another wet, windy & cold day. We are coming up to the middle of may and we have had only a few days without rain and the garden is far too wet to tend. Perhaps our politicians should give tax breaks to those who only have 1 or 2 children or even those who wish to remain childless.

  • rate this

    Comment number 192.


    That is rather odd conclusion. The 130% increase in population hasn't translated into such a large increase in global temperatures of green house gases. The people are creating less CO2 per capita than before. That said less CO2 per capita than before is not a good thing, this is only because most people live in poverty. We just need to stop being wasteful and research nuclear fusion.

  • rate this

    Comment number 191.

    Environmental "scientists" at East Anglia University really shot the argument for reducing CO2 emissions in the foot in 2009 with the games they played fudging data and their outrage at having gotten caught at it without any explanation, apology, or clarification of what they had done.While their argument may have been correct, theirs looked more like a political program than scientific research.

  • rate this

    Comment number 190.

    I was depressed to see that much of the recent improvement in car fuel consumption has now been put down to smoke and mirrors. By calculating the figures in laboratory conditions, not on the road, the figures look great. Evidently the authorities have spotted this and new rules will require road testing. Expect consumption figures to drop dramatically...

  • rate this

    Comment number 189.

    I live in India where thousands of farmers have committed suicide or left farming in last decade. It is pathetic situation mainly because of change in rainfall pattern and increased drought intensity.

    You don't need rocket science to understand why it happened in last decade?

    Climate Change

  • rate this

    Comment number 188.

    I believe the changes in solar activity are the primary driver for climate change, as we see warming periods similar to the current one following similar historic changes such as the increase in solar activity after the maunder minimum. A History of Solar Activity over Millennia, by IG Usoskin, points to increased solar activity followed by global warming periods several times over past millennia

  • rate this

    Comment number 187.

    To all the people claiming the problem is too many people....

    identifying problems is easy. Solutions are harder. How do you plan to get rid of 3 or 4 billion people? Are you planning on including yourselves in the 'thumbs down' group?

  • Comment number 186.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 185.

    168 Bill Walker - Methane is a nuisance, but it's produced in tiny amounts compared to CO2, and degrades comparitively quickly in the upper atmosphere (to CO2 & water), so the effect isn't as long-lived.

    And if we use sustainable methods to produce cattlefeed, there's little long-term gain in greenhouse gasses, as the plants will absorb the same amount of CO2 that the methane produces.

  • rate this

    Comment number 184.

    The upper safety limit for atmospheric CO2 is 350 parts per million

    Some 200 million years ago, an increase in atmospheric CO2 caused acidification of the oceans and global warming that killed off 76 percent of marine and terrestrial species on Earth.

  • rate this

    Comment number 183.

    I can't help but feel all of this is a bit futile since all of our reductions in CO2 emissions can be wiped out by one belch of a volcano. We are arrogant enough to think our activities could destroy the planet, our Earth will chew us up & spit us out before we get anywhere near destroying it. We're more in danger from digging the earth out from beneath ourselves.

  • rate this

    Comment number 182.

    CO2 is about 0.04% of the gases in the atmosphere, well below Argon and vital to life on earth via photosynthesis of plants.
    Just thought people ought to know the facts.

  • rate this

    Comment number 181.

    Sadly the profit motive already has the nail in the coffin.

  • rate this

    Comment number 180.


    I disagree. The planet will wipe enough of us away to solve this mysterious problem that huggers cry of. There will be plenty of plants and tree spices left to love and the whole cycle will begin again.

  • rate this

    Comment number 179.

    "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 for four million years."

    Meanwhile, in the last 50 years, we've taken the world's population up by more than 130% from 3bn to over 7bn and that is totally unprecedented.

    It also means that each individual is responsible for much less CO2 than 50 years ago. The problem is people not CO2!

  • rate this

    Comment number 178.

    If it's all so black and white and the planet is at stake, then the perfect first step is to co-ordinate a worldwide ban on automotive transport and use of fossil fuels until non-carbon producing alternatives are found. I wonder why this is not happening...?

    As usual, the solution put forward instead will be higher "green" taxes.

  • rate this

    Comment number 177.

    As far as I am aware there is no evidence that the climate is a linear system, quite the opposite. If it's a catastrophic system then there is no guarantee that reducing CO2 now can reverse the effects already in place.

    For all we know we may have passed a bifurcation point in 1915 and are already falling off the cliff, in which case no amount of CO2 reduction will be of use.

  • rate this

    Comment number 176.

    One of the interesting things is that the doom mongers, some of whom are most revered by the environmental movement have a dismal track record in their predictions. Why does the BBC give them air time. Or is it that too many of the media's science / environment correspondents are signed up environmentalists.


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