The new figures offer more evidence that global climate efforts, including the transition from fossil fuels to cleaner energy, are falling short of what scientists say is needed to halt global warming.
“Each year, we see the impacts of climate change in the heat waves, droughts, floods, wildfires, and storms that occur all around us,” NOAA Administrator Rick Spinrad said in a statement. “While we will have to adapt to climate impacts that we cannot avoid, we must do everything we can to reduce carbon pollution and safeguard this planet and the life that calls it home.”
Carbon dioxide levels in May averaged 424.0 parts per million (ppm), the fourth largest annual increase since measurements began 65 years ago at the NOAA observatory on Mauna Loa, Hawaii.
The highest average monthly levels of CO2 spikes occur in May for the Northern Hemisphere, just after plants exude the gas before the growing season. The monthly average for May this year stood at 423.78 ppm, an increase of 3.0 ppm from the May 2022 average.
The increases in carbon dioxide levels do not surprise climate scientists who have tracked them over time.
“[The findings are] disappointing, but not surprising. We still see CO2 increasing at the same rate as it has been in recent decades,” Ralph Keeling, a geochemist at Scripps, told The Post.
Generated by burning fossil fuels for transportation and electricity generation, cement manufacturing, deforestation, agriculture, and many other practices, carbon dioxide traps heat from the planet’s surface that would otherwise would escape into space. Carbon dioxide pollution, a key greenhouse gas, amplifies extreme weather events such as heat waves, droughts and wildfires, as well as rainfall and flooding.
Between January and April of this year, 12,972 wildfires have burned more than 392,287 acres of land according to NOAA. Atmospheric rivers, combined with snowmelt, pummeled the western United States with significant flooding that left hundreds of thousands of people without power.
Last year was declared the fifth or sixth warmest year on record by five different scientific organizations. Twenty-eight countries set national record annual averages last year, including Britain, Spain, France, Germany, China and New Zealand. Berkeley Earth reported that 850 million people experienced the warmest year on record.
“Whatever we’re seeing weather-wise right now is just the beginning of much bigger changes,” Keeling said.
Scientists can track carbon dioxide in two ways. One is through direct measurements of CO2 levels in the atmosphere, as Scripps scientists at the Mauna Loa observatory have been doing. The other method is to estimate emissions from multiple sources, work done by the International Energy Agency.
In a March report, the IEA stated that global carbon dioxide emissions related to energy production grew by 0.9% in 2022, reaching a new high of more than 36.8 billion metric tons.
As atmospheric carbon dioxide levels continue to rise, leaders around the world are facing increasing pressure to commit to more aggressive plans to reduce greenhouse gas pollution. Last year’s climate summit in Egypt, known as COP27, was widely seen as a disappointment in this regard, with little progress being made on binding measures to reduce emissions.
Scientists fear that the new El Niño cycle could increase the growth rate of CO2 in the atmosphere. El Niño, the opposite of La Niña, triggers warmer-than-normal surface waters in the tropical Pacific Ocean and is marked by drought in some regions.
During El Niño, dry tropical vegetation and savannahs contribute to higher C02 levels, Keeling said. The previous La Niña cycle has contributed to slightly slower growth rates.
“I expect the news next year to be even worse,” Keeling said.