Greenhouse Gas Levels Reach Record Highs

Greenhouse Gas Levels Reach Record Highs

Atmospheric levels of greenhouse gases like methane and carbon dioxide continue to rise, even though many sectors and governments across the world are attempting to cut emissions. Methane increased by 1% last year to 1,896 parts per billion, the largest annual increase on NOAA’s record. Meanwhile, carbon levels in 2021 hit 415 parts per million (ppm), an increase of 2.26 ppm from average levels in 2020.

IEA: Methane emissions from the energy sector rose by nearly 5% in 2021 | Global Methane Tracker 2022, March 17, 2022.

Bloomberg: Record Methane Levels Made 2021 5th Hottest Year Since 2000, January 10, 2022.

Why This Matters

Over the past two years, in spite of a global pandemic, emissions levels have been frighteningly high. Last year, global carbon emissions hit their highest level in history, spiking by 6% to 36.6 billion metric tons. The latest IPCC report suggests that emissions must peak before 2025 and be reduced by 43% by 2030 in order to limit warming to around 1.5 degrees Celsius. Similarly, last month a study from Manchester University found that rich countries will have to completely phase out oil and gas production by 2034 to meet the 1.5-degree limit. Time is running out to phase out fossil fuels, so this upward trend in emissions has to reverse sooner rather than later.

IPCC: IPCC Sixth Assessment Report - Climate Change 2022 | Mitigation of Climate Change trailer, April 4, 2022.

BBC: UN scientists say it's 'now or never' to limit global warming, April 4, 2022.

Why The Rise?

The increase in methane emissions is particularly concerning since methane is 86 times more potent in trapping heat in the atmosphere over a 20-year period.

The Environmental Defense Fund found that this rise in methane emissions is a result of natural gas flaring and venting in the Permian Basin. But data about exactly how much methane has leaked into the atmosphere is hard to come by. A recent report from the International Energy Agency (IEA) showed that methane emissions from the energy sector are actually 70% higher than officially reported numbers.

Cronkite News: Gaslit, February 24, 2022.

In order to meet the IEA’s goal of reaching net zero by 2050, methane emissions need to decrease by 75% by 2030.

"It's going to take a lot of hard work to reverse these trends,” said Ariel Stein, director of the agency’s Global Monitoring Laboratory, to the Houston Chronicle, and clearly that's not happening.”

FT: Gas flaring - Can we rein in the waste and pollution?, Sep 21, 2021.

BBC: Past seven years hottest on record, EU satellite data shows, January 10, 2022.

The Economist: See what three degrees of global warming looks like, October 7, 2021.