Sustainability Blog

World Met @ World Met: Atmospheric Methane at Record High

By Apurva Gosalia - Oct 31, 2022

Concentrations of carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide in the atmosphere are the highest they’ve been since systematic measurements of greenhouse gases began almost 40 years ago, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) announced last Wednesday. Researchers discovered a drastic increase of methane in particular, which is at a record high.

Methane is the second-largest contributor to climate change after carbon dioxide. It is 25 times more damaging to the climate than CO2 but remains in the atmosphere for less time. Methane hangs around for around 10 years, while CO2 can linger for centuries.

According to the WMO, the global average atmospheric methane concentration has been rising steadily since 2007. Analysis indicates that the largest contribution to this increase comes from biogenic sources such as wetlands or rice paddies.

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The increase in concentration of CO2 from 2020 to 2021 was higher than previous 10 year average. According to the report, the concentration increased by 2.5 parts per million to 415.7 ppm in 2021. That’s about 150% of the level before industrialization began. The increase is primarily due to the burning of fossil fuels and cement production.

Atmospheric nitrous oxide – also known as laughing gas – also grew more last year than the average over the past decade. The concentration was 334.5 ppm, or about 125% of pre-industrial levels. Nitrous oxide is about 300 times more harmful to the climate than CO2 – no laughing matter!

According to the German Federal Environment Agency, CO2 contributes about 65% to the greenhouse effect, methane 16% and nitrous oxide about 6.5%. All greenhouse gases combined have led to an average global warming of more than 1.1 degrees Celsius since the end of the 19th century.

The WMO reported in May that the average annual temperature could already be 1.5 C above pre-industrial levels in at least one year between 2022 and 2026. The probability of this is almost 50%. If warming goes above 1.5 C on a permanent basis, the consequences of climate change are considerable.

WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas said on the occasion of the new figures, “The WMO Greenhouse Gas Bulletin once again underscores the enormous challenge – and vital need – for urgent action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and prevent further increases in global temperatures in the future.”

He said the continued rise in concentrations of key greenhouse gases shows that “we are heading in the wrong direction.” Taalas warned, “We need to transform our industrial, energy, and transportation systems, as well as our entire way of life. The necessary changes are economically affordable and technically possible. Time is running out.”

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