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expert reaction to Met Office statement on record high levels of atmospheric CO2

The Met Office have published the latest assessment of atmospheric carbon dioxide levels, finding record high levels despite reduced emissions in 2020.


Prof Richard Betts, Head of Climate Impacts Research at the Met Office, said:

“It’s striking just how fast we are moving into what we used to think of as the future climate. Atmospheric CO2 has now risen to 50% above pre-industrial levels. Climate scientists use ‘doubled CO2’ as a standard scenario for future global warming – now we’re halfway to that level.”


Prof Pierre Friedlingstein, Chair in Mathematical Modelling of Climate Systems at the University of Exeter, said:

“We know atmospheric CO2 is still going up despite the pandemic as emissions only declined by about 7% in 2020.  We also know atmospheric CO2 is higher in spring because of its natural seasonal cycle, which means that every spring, atmospheric CO2 is higher than ever.  To reverse this long term trend, we need to reduce emissions year in year out, until we reach net zero CO2 emissions.”


Dr Joeri Rogelj, Director of Research, Grantham Institute, Imperial College London, said:

“These messages of increasing atmospheric CO2 concentrations are unfortunately fully compatible with our expectations. COVID lockdowns have reduced global CO2 emissions temporarily in 2020. Emissions in 2020 are estimated to be about 7% lower than in 2019. Putting this in context: instead of the 43 billion tonnes of CO2 waste gases that were dumped into the atmosphere in 2019, 40 billion tonnes were emitted in 2020. That’s still a massive amount of CO2 added to the atmosphere, which by and large exceeds the annual uptake of CO2 by nature. Concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere are thus expected to continue to increase. Deeper reductions sustained over longer periods are necessary to see this trend levelling off, let alone reversing.”


Prof Martin Siegert, Co-Director, Grantham Institute, Imperial College London, said:

“This record was completely expected, unfortunately. Emissions may have been reduced but we are still emitting lots of CO2, and so its atmospheric concentration is bound to go up – and will continue to do so until we get to somewhere near net-zero emissions. Our path to net zero is obvious, challenging and necessary – and we must get on with the transition urgently.”


Prof Simon Lewis, Professor of Global Change Science, University College London, said:

“It is easy to forget just how much and just how fast fossil fuel emissions are affecting our planet. It took over 200 years to increase the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by 25%, and just 30 years to reach 50% above pre-industrial levels. This dramatic change is like a human meteorite hitting Earth. While a shocking change, the world is at a turning point. If countries make plans now to put society on a path of sustained and dramatic cuts to emissions from today, we can avoid ever-rising emissions and the dangerously accelerating impacts of climate change.”



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