GENEVA, Switzerland, Oct. 24 (UPI) -- Greenhouse gas emissions rose to a symbolic high last year and are at levels more than 40 percent higher than before the Industrial Revolution, a report said.
The World Meteorological Organization reported that carbon dioxide, a potent greenhouse gas, reached 400 parts per million in the atmosphere last year for the first time on record. That represents a level that's 44 percent higher than pre-Industrial Revolution levels.
In the 15 years since 1990, there was a 37 percent increase in the warming impact on the climate because of the atmospheric influence of greenhouse gases like CO2, methane and nitrous oxide. WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas said in a statement some of the warming was attributed to a recent El Nino weather pattern, though patterns that suggest a warming climate were apparent.
"The real elephant in the room is carbon dioxide, which remains in the atmosphere for thousands of years and in the oceans for even longer," he said. "Without tackling CO2 emissions, we cannot tackle climate change."
The report comes less than a month after major support built up behind last year's Paris climate agreement, which calls on the global community to take action to address threats posed by a warming climate by cutting their emissions.
Under the terms of the agreement, wealthier nations like China and the United States are expected to help finance the shift to a low-carbon economy in poor, developing nations.
Younghoon David Kim, the chairman of the World Energy Council who began his three-year term Monday, congratulated outgoing U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon for steering the Paris agreement forward.
"Secretary General Ban has overseen a grand transition in the way in which we view energy," the WEC leader said.
The U.N. Environment Program said, however, that even if all the commitments under the agreement materialize, emissions levels by 2030 could still potentially lead to a global average temperature increase of more than 3 degrees Celsius.
The WMO chief said last year marked a new high point in the debate over climate change, as evidenced by the Paris agreement.
"But it will also make history as marking a new era of climate change reality with record high greenhouse gas concentrations," he said.
U.S. President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping said this year they were committed to signing the Paris agreement. In a contentious election year, neither major party candidate in the United States has put much emphasis on climate issues during their campaigns.