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Greenhouse gas levels have hit a record high and there's no sign of a slowdown

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Greenhouse gases in the atmosphere hit a new record in 2018, rising faster than the average rise of the last decade and cementing increasingly damaging weather patterns, the World Meteorological Organisation says.

Greenhouse gases levels in the atmosphere, the main driver of climate change, hit a record high last year, the UN said Monday, calling for action to safeguard "the future welfare of mankind".

"There is no sign of a slowdown, let alone a decline, in greenhouse gas concentration in the atmosphere despite all the commitments under the Paris Agreement on Climate Change," the head of the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) Petteri Taalas said in a statement.

The WMO's main annual Greenhouse Gas Bulletin listed the atmospheric concentration of CO2 in 2018 at 407.8 parts per million, up from 405.5 parts per million in 2017.

That increase was just above the annual average increase over the past decade. 

CO2 is responsible for roughly two-thirds of Earth's warming.

The second most prevalent greenhouse gas in the atmosphere is methane - emitted in part from cattle and fermentation from rice paddies - which is responsible for 17 per cent of warming, according to WMO. 

Nitrous oxide, the third major greenhouse which is gas caused largely by agricultural fertilisers, has caused about six per cent of warming on Earth, the UN agency said. 

Atmospheric concentration levels of both methane and nitrous oxide both hit record highs last year, the UN said. 

City of Sydney, declares Climate Emergency.
The Extinction Rebellion movement has organised climate change protests in scores of cities, including across Australia.
City of Sydney

"This continuing long-term trend means that future generations will be confronted with increasingly severe impacts of climate change, including rising temperatures, more extreme weather, water stress, sea-level rise and disruption to marine and land ecosystems," WMO said.

'More hopeful'?

Emissions are the main factor that determine the amount of greenhouse gas levels but concentration rates are a measure of what remains after a series of complex interactions between atmosphere, biosphere, lithosphere, cryosphere and the oceans. 

Roughly 25 per cent of all emissions are currently absorbed by the oceans and biosphere - a term that accounts for all ecosystems on Earth.

A schools climate strike rally in Melbourne earlier this year.
A schools climate strike rally in Melbourne earlier this year.
AAP

The lithosphere is the solid, outer part of the Earth while the cryosphere covers that part of the world covered by frozen water.

The UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has said that in order to keep warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius, net CO2 emissions must be at net zero, meaning the amount being pumped into the atmosphere must equal the amount being removed, either through natural absorption or technological innovation.

While Mr Taalas made clear that the world was not on track to meet UN targets, he did highlight some reasons for cautious optimism. 

"The visibility of these issues is the highest (it has) ever been," he told reporters in Geneva, noting that the private sector was increasingly investing in green technology. 

Police officers remove climate change activists from their road blockades around the Bank of England in the City of London financial district.
Police officers remove climate change activists from their road blockades around the Bank of England in the City of London financial district.
AFP

Even in the United States, where President Donald Trump's administration this month began the process of formally withdrawing from the Paris agreement, "plenty of positive things are happening," Mr Taalas said. 

While Washington may have renounced its Paris agreement commitments, he added: "we have plenty of states and cities who are proceeding in the right direction."

"Personally, I am more hopeful than I used to be 10 years ago but of course we have to speed up the process."

Australia 'most vulnerable' to climate change

Australia is responsible for around 1.3 per cent of global emissions, according to the Federal Environment Department.

The government has set a target to reduce emissions to 26-28 per cent on 2005 levels by 2030.

But a new study commissioned by the Climate Council revealed that more than 53 per cent of Australians thought more action, such as increased focus towards renewable energy, is needed.

"We are the biggest iron ore exporter in the world and there are ways you can turn iron ore into steel using the Australian sunshine, to create effectively zero emissions steel," Climate Council Senior Researcher, Tim Baxter, said.

"We're the sunniest and windiest continent that's inhabited on the planet so we are best placed to lead the global emissions reduction effort."

The report also found more than half of the 1500 people surveyed believed climate change had made the threat of bushfires worse.

About 42.9 per cent “strongly agreed” with the statement, while another 13.7 per cent agreed. A further 39.9 disagreed or strongly disagreed, and 3.5 per cent were unsure.

"Australia is probably the most vulnerable developed country in the world when it comes to the impact of climate change," Mr Baxter said.

"This spring we've had five states subjected to fires that can only be described as catastrophic."

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