CO2 levels rise again on Svalbard

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The impact of global warming has mostly fallen off the front pages of Norwegian newspapers recently, but new evidence from Norway’s far northern archipelago of Svalbard suggests it’s as worrisome as ever. Researchers are distinctly uneasy over the levels of CO2 in the air, and fear global warming is getting warmer all the time.

The Zeppelin research station near Ny-Ålesund on Svalbard has been producing more worrisome data, suggesting that climate change will accelerate. PHOTO: nilu.no

Higher CO2 levels can lead to more global warming, and never before have higher levels been measured on Svalbard, newspaper Aftenposten reported this week. Researchers, meanwhile, have long hoped that the average rise in temperatures will not go over two degrees, as a higher increase could have drastic consequences for the world’s climate. This is now looking less and less likely, fear researchers at the Norwegian Institute for Air Research (Norsk institutt for luftforskning, NILU).

‘Disturbing’ but not surprising
They report a relatively steady increase in CO2 levels since the 1950s, when international monitoring began, but now the CO2 levels are rising at a faster pace. Whereas previous annual increases amounted to 1 part per million (ppm), they’ve been measured at 2 ppm in the last 10 years.

Levels measured this year at the Zeppelin Mountain Atmospheric Research Station on Svalbard, deep in the Arctic, have already passed 400 ppm. When the levels pass this point, researchers fear that global warming may increase by more than two degrees, which is the limit currently agreed upon as necessary to prevent potentially apocalyptic climate outcomes.

Cathrine Lund Myhre, project leader for the measurement of greenhouse gas at NILU, told Aftenposten that the measurements were disturbing but unsurprising.

“We had hoped that this threshold would not be reached, but since it has, it is vital that it be given proper attention,” Myhre said. “Information on climate change must not stop being distributed, and effective measures must be put in place to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

She also says that it now seems more CO2 is staying in the atmosphere, with less being absorbed by the sea and by vegetation. “We see a definite shift in the equilibrium, and this needs to be monitored and investigated more closely,” she said.

Human influence
Research Director Nalan Koc of the Norwegian Polar Institute (Norsk Polarinstitutt) says there has always been climate change throughout the history of the planet, but that CO2 levels and temperature increases have never before reached anywhere near their current levels. During the Ice Age and periods in between, levels of CO2 in the atmosphere oscillated between 180 and 280 ppm.

“All the increases up to and now above 400 ppm have occurred because of human influence,” she told Aftenposten. She believes the levels will continue to rise until reaching a peak in 2015.

At that point, she said, emissions will have to be reduced, if drastic changes in the world’s climate are to be averted. She’s calling on global politicians to provide strong leadership in reducing CO2 emissions, and adds that use of oil and gas must be reduced significantly.

Carbon, oil and gas ‘should stay in the ground’
Earlier in the week, Aftenposten also wrote about how the International Energy Association (IEA), which has most of the wealthy oil-consuming countries among its 28 members (including Norway) and coordinates their use of oil reserves, has made a recommendation that two-thirds of carbon, oil and gas should remain in the ground, if climate targets are to be reached.

In their yearly report World Economic Outlook, they predict that global consumption of oil and gas (and the consequent increase in greenhouse gas emissions, if they continue to increase at their current rate) will lead to a rise in temperature of 3.6 degrees by 2035, far above the “safe” threshold.

Norwegian oil company Statoil isn’t letting the report influence their exploration and production, however. Climate director Hege Nordheim at Statoil told Aftenposten that “we like to believe that Statoil is competitive and can produce energy with lower emissions than others.”

Oil companies including Statoil remain bullish on oil exploration in sensitive Arctic areas, like in the Barents and around the scenic Lofoten peninsula off Northern Norway. Norwegian politicians haven’t approved drilling off Lofoten and face huge debate on both sides of the issue.

Norway, which likes to portray itself as an environmentally conscious nation, nonetheless relies heavily on its oil and gas industry and both the government and a majority in parliament have been reluctant to slash carbon emissions because of the costs to industry, also outside the oil and gas sector. Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg continues to claim, however, that Norway will meet its emissions reduction goals.

Views and News from Norway/Elizabeth Lindsay

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