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The significance of CO2
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The significance of CO2

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Carbon Dioxide (CO2) is a colourless gas that is given off by all living creatures, and when fossil fuels (such as coal, oil or gas) are burnt. Carbon Dioxide is re-absorbed by plants as the essential building block in the creating of solid plant matter - and this cycle of emission and re-absorption is called known as the carbon cycle.

Carbon Dioxide in the atmosphere traps heat from the sun and a certain level is needed to order to keep the surface temperature habitable. However as more Carbon Dioxide is released into the atmosphere from burning fossil fuels, the earth's temperature is beginning to rise.

This effect is known as Global Warming or Global Climate Change, as the resultant change in temperature can vary widely in different parts of the globe.

The carbon cycle from plants and animals is normally broadly in balance, with few changes to the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere or level of global temperatures over periods of many thousand years. However, since mankind started burning fossil-derived fuels, which had previously stored carbon underground for millions of years, the level of CO2 has started to rise sharply - from around 280 parts per million (ppm) in 1800 to around 384ppm today (2007 data). This has already led to a small increase in global average temperatures, and is believed to have led to more extreme weather occurrences.

Scientists are able to model future rises in atmospheric CO2 levels based on the forecast use of fossil fuels. They can also estimate what might happen to the global climate, including rises to sea levels resulting from polar ice caps melting, at different levels of CO2. The consensus view is that total CO2 levels must be kept below 550ppm (and ideally below 450ppm) if the worst effects of climate change are to be avoided.

Even at this level average temperatures may rise by at least 2°C, with some loss of coastal land and other productive agricultural areas.











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