NOAA– Atmospheric CO2 Increased by 2.77 Parts Per Million During 2016

According to NOAA, carbon dioxide — a key heat trapping gas — increased its atmospheric concentration by 2.77 parts per million during 2016. This was the third fastest rate of increase in the NOAA record following 2015 at a 3.03 ppm annual increase and 1998 at a 2.93 annual increase.

Earlier trends had indicated that 2016 might be on track to beat 2015 as a new record year (and a month by month comparison for the first 11 months of 2016 pointed toward a record rate of rise). These concerns, thankfully, did not materialize as atmospheric rates of accumulation slowed down during December of 2016 — which helped to push the overall year to year comparison lower (NOAA’s year-on-year rate of growth is based on a December to January comparison). Nonetheless, the high rate of atmospheric increase for 2016 remains a matter of concern.


(2015 saw a record annual rate of atmospheric CO2 increase at 3.03 parts per million. 2016’s increase at 2.77 parts per million was the 3rd fastest on record. Overall, the decade of 2011-2016 is presently showing about a 20 percent faster rate of accumulation than the decade of 2000 to 2010. This should moderate somewhat post El Nino. However, Earth System feedbacks threaten to hamper the environment’s ability to take down excess carbon as the world begins to approach 1.5 C warmer than 1880s averages. Image source: NOAA.)

Overall, the average annual rate of increase for the first six years of the decade beginning in 2011 was 2.42 parts per million. This rate is approximately 20 percent faster than during the decade of 2001 to 2010 (analysis based on this NOAA data) at around a 2.05 parts per million annual increase. Prior to the most recent decade, the 2000 to 2010 period showed the fastest rate of atmospheric carbon dioxide accumulation on record.

El Nino, through ocean warming and related land impacts such as increased droughts and wildfires, can reduce the rate of CO2 uptake by the Earth System — thus forcing a higher rate of increase due to the human emission. And the 2015 to 2016 period featured a strong El Nino. All things being equal, we should expect atmospheric rates of increase to moderate somewhat during 2017. Possibly dropping to slightly below 2 ppm in the best case.


(Extremely rapid rates of atmospheric CO2 increase since the mid 20th Century have been driven by ramping rates of fossil fuel burning. Now we are at a point where the Earth System will have more and more difficulty taking in the carbon spewed out by smokestacks and tail pipes. Image source: The Keeling Curve.)

However, global carbon emissions from fossil fuels at near record levels will continue to push a very high rate of atmospheric accumulation of this climate change driving heat-trapping gas. And the added insult due to global warming now ranging above 1 C hotter than 1880s for most years will tend to put a cap on how effective the Earth is at taking in the very large excess human emission.

By comparison, rates of CO2 increase during the last hothouse extinction event — the PETM — were about 10 to 20 times slower than they are today. And it took hundreds of years for atmospheric concentrations of CO2 to equal the same 125 parts per million increase we’ve now experienced in the 136 years since 1880. So the insult to the Earth System produced by fossil fuel burning is currently extraordinarily high and the rate of heat trapping gas accumulation is probably unprecedented for at least the last 66 million years.

(CO2 is the primary gas driving global warming. But it is not the only one. Add in methane, nitrous oxide and other greenhouse gasses and you end up with a total forcing that’s equivalent to 490 parts per million CO2. Video source: Climate One.)

NOAA is now showing that global atmospheric CO2 averages are hitting near 402.5 parts per million. This level will likely increase to around 404 to 405 parts per million by the end of 2017. The forcing from this CO2 alone (not including methane and other greenhouse gasses which has pushed CO2 equivalent forcing to around 490 parts per million) is enough to push global temperatures to nearly 2 C warmer than 1880s averages this Century (prediction based on ECS model analysis). Longer term, if atmospheric CO2 concentrations remain so high, overall warming could hit 3 C to as much as 4 C hotter than 1880s values when adding in the long-term impacts of other greenhouse gas emissions (prediction based on a meta-analysis of paleoclimate temperature and atmospheric carbon proxies).

With global temperatures already driven to about 1.2 C hotter than 1880s during 2016, it’s not an understatement to say that a period of more dangerous and harmful climate change — forced upon us by the world’s extremely high rate of carbon emissions — is already upon us. And we can see that in the various severe weather and geophysical events that are currently ranging the globe. The urgency for cutting carbon emissions, therefore, could not be greater.


NOAA’s Earth Systems Research Laboratory

Ten Times Faster Than the PETM

The Keeling Curve

Climate One

Hat tip to Shawn Redmond

Hat tip to Suzanne


Leave a comment


  1. Suzanne

     /  January 11, 2017

    Thanks Robert….sobering numbers.
    Steven Chu’s take on Greenhouse gas numbers….at Climate One last month…

  2. Jeremy in Wales

     /  January 11, 2017

    Robert, you post so fast and I cannot even get one comment out!
    It was interesting to see that those two SI units of land measurement the Delaware and the Wales making a substantial comeback (what has happened to the Connecticut or the Luxembourg)
    (Researchers at The MIDAS Project have projected that a 2,000 square mile section of the Larsen C Ice Shelf is about to break off. This section represents 10 percent of the Larsen C system. Its loss risks destabilization of the entire ice shelf. If Larsen C does disintegrate, it will release glaciers capable of increasing global sea level by another 4 inches. Image source: MIDAS.)
    Swansea is shown as one of the lead scientists comes from the university there but the city may also play a leading role in stripping out CO2 from electricity generation in the UK. Tomorrow the independent Charles Hendry review reports on the Swansea Tidal Lagoon, hopefully it will lead to the project getting the go ahead as all the planned lagoons could generate some 12% of UK electricity. I have my fingers crossed.

    • Jeremy in Wales

       /  January 11, 2017

      Sorry was trying to post the graphic from yesterdays post and failed as usual

    • Ha! Good point! And good news RE tidal energy. A nice source to add in to the mix.

      I think I’ll be posting faster for a bit now. So hold on to your hat.

  3. Bluesky

     /  January 11, 2017

    Only 2,7 ppm rise? Well that’s good news then, I thougt it would be over 3 ppm rise at least. By the way, I am stopping reading about climate change for good now, it’s just too depressing. It all accelerated last september when I discovered Guy Mcnutcakes video on youtube, I discovered it by a random comment on another youtube video saying the world was doomed in the next few decades and the person mentions guy mcphersons videos and then I watch most of his videos. I headed straight back to the arctic news blog, because of course I have seeing that page before as a climate interested person I am, but I never did give it much attention before. I was shocked how they described the possibility of a 10C rise in just a decade, but from where I am from, we call this for extreme alarmist and I also think it is in some way, though I was worried really. Then I start reading on your site Robert, of course I ran in too it before as a climate interested person, but I never kept hanging around your site either, I probably only was watching your political blogs I think back then , had I seeing the things you wrote about methane and the amazon drought for example I would have stick around for good.

    And ever since around a half year ago, I read most articles on this site, artic news blog, and a lot on the arctic sea ice forum also. I can easily say that reading so much about climate change in the last 6 months, is the most depressive and stressing thing I have ever done, and that why I’m done with it now. Well, I really hate the internet anyway and I’m not even old I haven’t turn 30 yet, I think people are living their lives through a screen in these days, but that’s another thing.

    Nevertheless, I still think people should be fighting all they can, including myself about climate change, because we can still win this fight, and I will tell people that I know that we need to change our way of living, in the best way that I can.

    Well, I’m out..

    • It threw me a little bit too. I hadn’t previously noticed that NOAA runs a flat Dec to Jan comparison, otherwise I would have been more cautious in my previous assessment. In any case, this is better news, but not good news.

      As for 10 C in just a decade or two — that is almost certainly not in the cards. Current problems are tough enough without this kind of exaggeration. We have no indicator right now that something like this is happening. We’re in a bad spot. But it’s not that bad.

      The point is that 1 to 2 C is tough enough to deal with (we’ll probably hit 1.5 C in the next 5-15 years, 2 C by 2035 to 2050 without major mitigation and a lot of luck). Mann notes that a probable worst case is 2 C by 2036.

      Lets work on solving real problems without working to create imaginary ones (or worse, depress people to the point of inaction).

      • A real problem is the increase in wildfire in northern latitudes, which may have had something to do with increasing the 2016 numbers, since there were some big long-lasting burns in Russia and Canada last year. But how to tackle that? One problem is that most forest management is geared toward low grade timber production which favours large areas of uniform structure of highly flammable pioneer species. We should be managing all forests to fireproof them better by maintaining diversity in their structural attributes and species, especially less flammable species.

        I used to get quite depressed just dealing with forestry issues here in Canada, since they are symptomatic of corporatism, cumulative human greed and short-term narrow mindedness, not to mention the loss of the sacred in our current economic paradigm. Ultimately, lasting solutions have to come from deeper in the human psyche, not from the bean counters and carbon traders.

  4. Cate

     /  January 11, 2017

    Dr Hansen ponders carbon capture.

    Q: How much carbon do we have to “somehow suck out of the air” to get down to 350ppm by 2100?

    A: A whole lot.

    “The important point is that the reduction rate to achieve 80% reduction by 2050 is conceivable. However, it will not happen unless the world comes to its senses in the next few years and agrees that it is necessary to have an across-the-board (oil, gas, coal) rising carbon fee collected at domestic mines and ports of entry, thus making the price of fossil fuels more honest by including their costs to society…”

    • A carbon fee would be nice. But independent and republican politicians appear to be dead set against it. Hansen is politically independent. But he may as well be a voice in the wilderness for all the support for a carbon fee that republicans and independents have produced.

      The other point right now is that the economics of carbon point toward rapid adoption of renewables as the low hanging fruit. It is far less expensive to build out solar, wind and batteries rapidly than it is to actively capture carbon. We’ve known this for some time now and the economics for renewables just keeps getting better and better. What a carbon price would tend to do is speed the transition away from fossil fuels.

      Carbon capture would tend, under such a rational scenario, to move toward the atmospheric variety.

  5. Cate

     /  January 11, 2017

    Bill McKibben on Rex Tillerson, today in The Guardian:

    “All in all, it’s hard to imagine a single hire that could do more damage to the planet (though the rest of Trump’s cabinet will doubtless give him a run for his money). Making this man secretary of state rewards climate denial, further warps our foreign policy towards oil and does it at the precise moment when every bit of data screams that we should be going in the opposite direction.”

    • Thanks for this, Cate. I’ve been reading about the Tillerson appointment hearings for much of the day. The reports are somewhat hard to sift through. One of the oddest things for me is that Trump even makes Tillerson look comparatively sane. Not to say that Tillerson is anywhere near sane on climate. It just goes to show how nuts Trump is.

    • McKibben nails it. I find his end note to be particularly salient:

      “Making this man secretary of state rewards climate denial, further warps our foreign policy towards oil and does it at the precise moment when every bit of data screams that we should be going in the opposite direction.

      The only consolation is that it removes all the window-dressing. Big Oil will run our foreign policy, right out in the open. In that sense, I suppose, Trump gets credit for a kind of barbaric transparency. When the CIA overthrew Mossadegh at least they had a little shame about it. No more.”

    • Scheduling tweet on this, thanks.

  6. Cate

     /  January 11, 2017

    Before Meryl, there was always Jane. 🙂

    She went to Fort Mac to talk about the tarsands and indigenous rights.

    “When I heard that your prime minister, the shining hope at the … Paris climate talks, who talked so beautifully about needing to meet the requirements of the climate treaty, and respect and hold to the treaties with the Indigenous people, and so forth — such a heroic stance he took there,” Fonda said. “And yet he has betrayed every one of the things that he committed to in Paris….
    “The only way to stop pipelines and further oil and gas development is for people to raise their voices and use the ballot box to make politicians pay the price for their support of such projects, she said.”

    • Suzanne

       /  January 11, 2017

      What does it say about our governments when it is entertainers that are speaking “truth to power”….and not the people we elect to represent us?

  7. Shawn Redmond

     /  January 11, 2017

    It would seem I’m not the only one that adds up all the months to get the average. This is a lengthy and scathing article but well worth the time. Grab a coffee and dig in. 2.77ppm my ass sorry RS but I can add and it doesn’t compute. Add the last 12 month averages together yourself and divide by twelve see what you get.

    As Scribbler writes, what is happening in the meantime is absolutely beyond belief (see here). In 2016, atmospheric concentrations of CO2 rose at the fastest rate ever. For the first 11 months of the year, 2016 atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations exceeded those of 2015 by an average of 3.45 parts per million. The past two record jumps were 2015, with a 3.05 ppm annual increase and 1998, with a 2.93 annual increase. 2016 exceeded these two record values by a hefty margin, pushing atmospheric CO2 values for 2016 to an average range of 404 ppm – 124 ppm higher than the pre-industrial value of 280 ppm. Human beings have never seen atmospheric CO2 values so high. They predate our distant relative Australopithecus by about 7 million years (see here). Atmospheric CO2 equivalent concentrations, which include other greenhouse gasses, averaged 485 ppm in 2015 and are around 490 ppm in 2016. These CO2e values approach the upper Middle Miocene range. During the Miocene of 14-16 million years ago, atmospheric CO2 levels, which had hovered around 400 parts per million for about 10 million years, jumped higher due to volcanic activity. Global temperatures rose from about 2-3°C hotter than Holocene values to temperatures which were around 4°C hotter. Antarctic ice melted and seas, which were around 18.3 metres higher than today, lifted to around 39.6 metres above present day levels (see here). However, according to a Canadian report, even half a metre of sea level rise will create a social crisis. Houses and other assets are becoming un-insurable. When they are lost – together with roads and other essential infrastructure – people living near the coasts in Canada and the US will be forced to move. But how many people? And where to? To a place where they can have jobs and rebuild their lives? Where will that be (see here)?

    • December to January comparison is the NOAA baseline. If you average the months, you get a different value entirely. It’s on me for not double-checking their methodology. I’m not going to get into an argument with NOAA on this one. But I will take a second look later this evening.

      EDIT: I did look again. So the growth rate substantially slowed to around 2.6 ppm yoy for December of 2016. This pulled the yearly average down even though the monthly averages seemed to indicate otherwise. Since CO2 growth is a leading indicator, the monthly averages have less weight. In the future, I’ll need to consider this as it can create surprises you wouldn’t expect from the trends analysis. It seems to me that nothing is wrong here. It’s just that the reduction in the rate of increase we were expecting did show up in December and this brought the yearly value down.

      • Shawn Redmond

         /  January 11, 2017

        I don’t think you should have to check their methodology. I’m questioning it though. Using the first and last two months to get the average is not on at all. That way of attaining an average in my day would mean that I would still be in elementary school. It smacks of cherry picking or an out right lie. This is magical number crunching that is best left in the world of economics and not brought out here in the real world where the stakes are much higher than a faceless hedge fund or pension plan. As you can probably tell it pisses me off more than a little to see what amounts to number fudging. Might just as well start getting our air quality numbers from the Antarctic. They’ll look much better. Sorry for the rant.

        • I wouldn’t call it that. However, if the year end had happened last month, we would have had a new record.

        • DJ

           /  January 12, 2017

          This is probably similar to the situation regarding sea ice extent, where NSIDC reported that December 2016 monthly sea ice extent was 2nd lowest on record, after 2010,despite the fact that EVERY day in December 2016 was lower than the same day in 2010. The NSIDC explained the reason (you can find the posts on the ASIF), and its due to the way they chose to calculate the number, based on different ways of interpreting what extent means in a monthly context.

          Unfortunately, and unintentionally, the effect is to significantly understate the severity of the situation, but at this point I don’t think changing the definition or the calculation would be appropriate, as it would just provide the denier community another talking point about how ‘the climate scientists are always manipulating and changing the data’. Frustrating though.

        • Shawn Redmond

           /  January 12, 2017

          Agreed to a point DJ, but as it stands the calculations are favouring the denial stance. Maybe the alarmist/ realistic measures might make for interesting fodder. Watching the denial industry scrambling to get the old, and still alarming way, of calculating back. Arguing the old way is better because it narrows the gap for them to jump across. Hmmm still a little pissed I am.

  8. climatehawk1

     /  January 12, 2017

    Tweet scheduled.

  9. Thie final number uses the average for Nov-Feb, to smooth out the noise in the data from a single location. So it could change quite a bit in the next couple of months, and January is starting off a lot higher (3-4ppm higher year over year).

    • Thanks for the comment on smoothing, Roger. It’s worth noting that a lower rate of increase during December is no guarantee that the overall trend has dropped below the El Nino related peak. But that does seem to be the trend at this time. Lets hope it stays that way.

  10. rogerboyd99

     /  January 12, 2017

    Thie final number uses the average for Nov-Feb, to smooth out the noise in the data from a single location. So it could change quite a bit in the next couple of months, and January is starting off a lot higher (3-4ppm higher year over year).

  11. greenman023

     /  January 12, 2017

    I did some calculations recently on what’s needed to begin to reverse Climate change and agriculture’s potential role in further mitigating emissions

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