Global carbon dioxide concentrations have surpassed 415 parts per million (ppm) for the first time in 3 million years, and the first time ever since humans existed, according to new data.
The news has come from the Scripps CO2 Program at the Mauna Loa observatory in Hawaii, where carbon dioxide concentrations have been monitored for the last 60-years.
'Every year it goes up like this we should be saying ‘No, this shouldn't be happening. It's not normal.' This increase is just not sustainable in terms of energy use and in terms of what we are doing to the planet,' director of the Scripps CO2 Program Ralph Keeling said on Twitter
The Scripps CO2 program commenced in 1956 by Charles David Keeling, and has been collecting data on atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations at Mauna Loa observatory and is one the largest directly measured data sets for carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere.
Scientists have predicted that based on current trajectories, that carbon concentrations would be on track to reach 500 ppm within the next 30-years. This would translate to a rate of global warming of 3 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.
'At the present pace, we could reach that well within a lot of people's lifetimes,' Keeling added.
According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the last time temperatures were 3 degrees higher than pre-industrial levels, sea-levels were 15-25 metres higher than they are today. The predicted impacts at that level of warming include dramatic increases in extreme weather events, and a dramatic reduction in arctic ice levels.
The product of this work is the well-known Keeling Curve, which shows the increasing concentrations of carbon dioxide over the last few decades, along with the seasonal variations observed in the data.
Carbon dioxide concentrations have been increasing at an accelerating rate, despite global agreements to tackle climate change seeking to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
The latest milestone has been compared with forecasts that oil giant Exxon Mobil produced in the 1980s. The secret report that was revealed publicly in 2015, laid out in devastating detail the potential consequences of rising emissions and continued fossil fuel use.
Those internally prepared forecasts by Exxon almost 40-years ago were astonishingly accurate, predicting that carbon dioxide concentrations would reach 415 ppm sometime around 2019.
Exxon's secret report stated that 'potentially catastrophic events that must be considered”, predicting substantial sea-level rise, the loss of biodiversity and likely social distribution as a result of a climate disruption.
Prediction of the future from 1982 by @exxonmobil
, along with data showing how it has actually evolved. Exxon's predictions were extremely accurate. #ExxonKnew
— Andrew Dessler (@AndrewDessler) May 14, 2019
It's hard not to make parallels between fossil fuel companies and those of tobacco firms; companies that have had a sound understanding of the causes and impacts of their businesses on the rest of the world but do nothing out of the pursuit of profit.
Exxon has funded campaigns to spread misinformation and undermine public acceptance of climate change science.
Despite the clear understanding of the impacts of continued fossil fuel use in the 1980s, Exxon Mobil remains the world's largest privately owned fossil fuel producer.
Firms like Exxon Mobil have increasingly found themselves the target of climate change litigation, both for the historical climate damage attributable to the firms, as well as their conduct directed towards shareholders.
Exxon Mobil is fighting legal action brought by the city of New York
, which has claimed the oil giant mislead its shareholders about the risks that climate change poses to its business. Similar cases have been brought forward by many other US States and City Governments, with many ongoing.
Michael Mazengarb is a journalist with RenewEconomy, based in Sydney. Before joining RenewEconomy, Michael worked in the renewable energy sector for more than a decade.