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Global carbon dioxide levels have soared to their highest in 15 years and inched perilously close to the highest ever recorded since such monitoring began in 1959, according to report publicized Wednesday by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
The threat of global warming that could unleash a destructive wave of climate change effects looks set to spark off yet another round of clashes between the developed and developing nations over who’s to blame and what needs to be done about it.
Experts involved in the study suggested that atmospheric carbon dioxide levels were so high that it would be “almost impossible” to prevent global temperatures from rising by (another) 1.2 degrees Celsius from current levels.
The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has said that an increase exceeding 2 degrees Celsius in average global temperatures, from pre-Industrial levels could cause a dangerous rise in sea levels and inundate several coastal cities as well as significantly alter climate patterns.
Already, average global temperatures are 0.8 degrees above pre-industrial revolution levels.
“The chances of keeping temperatures below 2 degrees (Celsius) are almost impossible,” said Pieter Tans, who leads the greenhouse gas (GHG) monitoring initiative at NOAA, in an email.
Carbon dioxide levels jumped 2.67 parts per million (ppm) since 2011 to just under 395 ppm, according to the measurements from air samples taken from a volcano in Mauna Loa, Hawaii.
While some scientists said that carbon dioxide levels varied due to the fluctuating, absorptive capacity of the oceans, Tans maintained that human activity, especially those from developing countries such as China and India played a critical role in accelerating increases in carbon dioxide levels.
Tans however emphasized that the 2012 values were preliminary and could be amended in the future.
Attributing this increase to developing countries won’t help as they need to grow, said Mira Mehrishi, additional secretary at the environment ministry and the India’s chief negotiator at the climate talks in Doha.
“We are doing our best (to reduce emissions) but we have to balance it with our need to grow,” she said in a phone interview.
The increase in actual carbon dioxide levels cannot be attributed only to emissions but also depends on the ability of the ocean to absorb CO2, said J. Srinivasan, chairman, Divecha Centre for Climate Change, Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore.
It’s not surprising that a majority of the emissions are from the developing world, he said, adding that the developed world doesn’t need any more power plants, while the developing world is still growing.
“We can’t compare developing against developed as the population in developing countries is a lot more. It makes sense only to compare equal groups, hence we should look at emissions per capita,” he said.
Srinivasan said that there was a logjam on global climate change talks because the developed world was not ready to take either responsibility or the lead on these issues. “Since 1850 till today, the developed world leads in terms of cumulative emissions and what role have they played? But nitpicking will not help anyone as we all are in the same boat and the boat is sinking,” he said.
At every climate change forum, the developed countries try to point fingers at someone else but the they are in a better position to provide leadership as they have better technology and their population has stabilized, said Srinivasan.
“The Montreal Protocol (to limit the release of ozone-destroying chemicals) was successful because the developed countries took the lead. We need them to take the lead again.”