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CO2 is at highest level for three million years

CO2 is at highest level for three million years

06-05-2019 | Stunning statistics
The amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is now at a level last seen in prehistoric times, new research shows.
  • Chris Berkouwer
    Chris
    Berkouwer
    Equity Analyst

Speed read

  • Climate Impact research reveals rampant pace of global warming
  • The last time CO2 was this high, sea levels were 25m higher than now
  • Robeco portfolios are overweight stocks with lower carbon footprints

What has happened?

Research by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact research shows that the level of 405 parts per million (ppm) of carbon dioxide recorded in the atmosphere in 2017 was last seen on Earth three million years ago. Samples of sea bed sediment, ice and other particles dating back that far were used to compare today’s levels with that of the Pliocene era1.

At that time, the temperature was 2-3 degrees Celsius higher than pre-industrial levels, and the average sea level was up to 25 meters above what it is today. Humans had yet to evolve, wooly mammoths roamed the Earth, and the continents were up to 250 kilometers from their present locations, which meant North America was still connected to Asia.

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We’re off the scale: CO2 levels for the past 800,000 years 2.

Why is it important?

The findings make particularly grim reading regarding sea levels, as melting ice caps from global warming is seen as the biggest threat to modern human existence. Rising carbon dioxide from the Pliocene onwards caused climate change which ushered in the ice ages, creating the polar caps. Reversing this would mean sea levels rising as much as 80 meters, submerging coastal cities and threatening billions of people.

The research also means that global warming is progressing at a faster pace than previously thought, making it harder to meet the conditions of the Paris Agreement. These seek to limit temperature rises to a maximum of 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels by 2100, and preferably no more than 1.5 degrees.

A report issued by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate change in October 2018 said the world had little chance of meeting the Paris targets unless drastic action was taken now. It said the 2-degree target would probably be reached by 2030 and that global warming of 3 degrees by the end of the century was more likely.

What does it mean for investors?

Investing in those companies that help combat global warming and engaging with those that don’t will become more important going forward, says Chris Berkouwer, portfolio manager with Robeco’s Global Stars Equities fund. “Our portfolio is structurally overweight companies that have a much lower environmental footprint than the global average,” he says.

“The portfolio basically reflects a balance of solution providers to the climate problem, as well as companies with whom we engage to change for the better. For example, we invest in providers of bio-based renewable fuels and wind turbine makers, which also helps in fighting climate change.”

“Of course, the easiest way out is not to invest in CO2-emitting industries at all, but that’s too simplistic, and often doesn’t solve the underlying problem. The best long-term solution is actually to engage with companies such as the oil majors to move them in the right direction, i.e. actively discussing with them how to lower their environmental footprint and keep management accountable for their actions.”

1https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2019-04/pifc-mct040319.php
2https://www.climate.gov/news-features/understanding-climate/climate-change-atmospheric-carbon-dioxide

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