2016’s increase was 50% higher than the average of the past 10 years.
Researchers advise this is due to a combination of human activities and the El Niño weather phenomenon which has driven C02 to a level not seen in 800,000 years.
El Niño is a climate cycle in the Pacific Ocean with a global impact on weather patterns. It impacts the amount of carbon in the atmosphere by causing droughts limiting the uptake of C02 by plants and trees.
Many scientists are saying this risks making global temperature targets largely unachievable.
Measurements were taken in 51 countries, looking at warming gases including carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide.
2016 saw average concentrations of C02 hit 403.3 parts per million, which is up from 400 parts per million in 2015.
Dr Oksana Tarasova, chief of WMO’s global atmosphere watch programme said, “It is the largest increase we have ever seen in the 30 years we have had this network.”
Despite emission from human activities having slowed down in the past couple of years, Dr Tarasova says it is the cumulative total in the atmosphere that really matters as C02 stays in the air active for centuries.
The report says that over the past 70 years the increase in C02 is shockingly nearly 100 times larger than it was at the end of the last ice age.
These rapid increases could “initiate unpredictable change in the climate systems …. Leading to a severe ecological and economic disruptions.”
“The changes will not take ten thousand years like they used to take before, they will happen fast – we don’t have the knowledge of the system in this state, that is a bit worrisome!” says Dr Tarasova.
“It is urgent that we follow the Paris agreement and switch rapidly away from fossil fuels: there are signs this is beginning to happen but so far the air is not yet recording the change,” says Prof Euan Nisbet from Royal Holloway University.
A big concern from the report is the continuing, unexpected rise of methane levels which were also larger than the average over the past ten years. Prof Nisbet advised the big concern is a change reaction, as methane drives up temperatures this, in turn, releases more methane from natural sources. We need to stop this cycle before it is too late.
“The numbers don’t lie. We are still emitting far too much and this needs to be reversed,” says the head of UN Environment, Erik Solheim.
“We have many of the solutions already to address this challenge. What we need now is global political will and a new sense of urgency.”