IMAGE: PETROCHEMICAL PLANT
Anne-Christine Poujoulat  /  AFP/Getty Images
Greenhouse gas sources include petrochemical plants like the one behind a holiday resort in Fos-Sur-Mer, France.
updated 11/3/2006 12:16:01 PM ET 2006-11-03T17:16:01

Greenhouse gases in the Earth's atmosphere reached a high in 2005 and are still increasing, the U.N. weather agency said Friday.

The measurements coordinated by the World Meteorological Organization show that the global average concentrations of carbon dioxide, or CO2, and nitrous oxide, or N2O, reached record levels last year and are expected to increase even further this year, said Geir Braathen, a climate specialist at the Geneva-based agency.

"There is no sign that N2O and CO2 are starting to level off," Braathen told reporters at the global body's European headquarters. "It looks like it will just continue like this for the foreseeable future."

WMO's annual Greenhouse Gas Bulletin gives the scientific community agreed worldwide data on the amount of heat-trapping greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

The concentration of carbon dioxide rose by about half a percent last year to reach 379.1 parts per million, according to the agency. Nitrous oxide totaled 319.2 parts per billion, which is 0.19 percent higher than in 2004. Levels of methane, another so-called greenhouse gas, remained stable since last year, Braathen said.

Studies have shown that human-produced carbon dioxide emissions heat the Earth's surface and cause greater water evaporation. That leads to more water vapor in the air, which contributes to higher air temperatures. CO2, methane and N2O are the most common greenhouse gases after water vapor, according to WMO.

Third more carbon since late 1700s
They are produced partially by natural sources, such as wetlands, and partially by human activities like fertilizer use or fuel combustion. There is 35.4 percent more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere than there was in the late 18th century primarily because of combustion of fossil fuels, the WMO bulletin said.

Scientists say that carbon dioxide and other gases primarily from fossil fuel-burning trap heat in the atmosphere and have warmed the Earth's surface an average 1 degree Fahrenheit over the past century.

A report this week by the British government warned that global warming would devastate the world economy on the scale of the world wars and the Great Depression if left unchecked.

It said such warming could have effects such as melting glaciers, rising sea levels, declining crop yields, drinking water shortages, higher death tolls from malnutrition and heat stress, and widespread outbreaks of malaria and dengue fever. Developing countries often would be the hardest hit.

The U.N. agency said it also has concluded that "greenhouse gases are some of the major drivers behind global warming and climate change."

Braathen said power plants, automobiles, ships and airplanes using coal, oil or gas were contributing to the rise in carbon dioxide emissions

"The increase in CO2 is linked to the burning of fossil fuels," he said.

WMO said it based its findings on readings from 44 countries that were collected in Japan.

Beyond Kyoto
The agency's findings come just ahead of the second meeting of countries that adhered to the Kyoto Protocol — aimed at capping greenhouse gas emissions and staving off global warming — to be held in Nairobi, Kenya, Nov. 6-17. Under the 1997 Kyoto accord, 35 industrialized nations have committed to reducing emissions by an average 5 percent below 1990 levels by 2012. The United States, the biggest emitter, rejects the agreement.

WMO's Braathen said it would take time until the protocol, which has been in effect since last year only, leads to a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and that countries need to do more.

"To really make CO2 level off, we need more drastic measures than are in the Kyoto Protocol today," he said.

On Monday, the U.N. climate treaty secretariat also reported that global greenhouse gas emissions are on the rise, with increased values from 34 industrialized nations between 2000 and 2004. In the United States, source of two-fifths of the industrialized world's greenhouse gases, emissions grew by 1.3 percent in that period, and by almost 16 percent between 1990 and 2004, the U.N. said.

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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