6 June 2012  – Carbon dioxide levels that have recently been recorded at 400 parts per million across the Arctic have broken new levels and could soon be replicated in other parts of the world, climate scientist Andy Pitman has warned.

The figure represents a 40 per cent increase in carbon dioxide levels since the industrial revolution, and are higher than at any time in the last 800,000 years, proving that human activities are reponsible, Professor Pitman says.

The revelations come at the same time that the United Nations placed Australia’s Great Barrier Reef on the critical list with “extreme concern” for its viability under current development pressures.

“The level of carbon dioxide in our air is still going up year by year around the world, and in the air above Australia. The higher the amount of carbon dioxide in the air the greater the risks associated with climate change,” Professor Pitman said.

“This milestone is an important reminder that we haven’t begun to fix this problem as a community, climate change is happening apace and rapid action to reduce global emissions remains necessary and urgent.”

Professor Pitman, director of the Australian Research Council’s centre of Excellence for Climate System Science and a member of the Climate Commission Science Advisory Panel, said it was now: “beyond doubt that human activities, including burning coal for electricity and oil for transport, have caused the increase in carbon dioxide in the air.

“Measurements in the Arctic, as well as world-class measurements by CSIRO at Cape Grim in Tasmania, provide the clear evidence of the problem. But we also know that many of the solutions are available today.

“Australia is already a leader in research and development of clean technologies. Four of the six global manufacturers of solar photovoltaic technology have been students or researchers at University of New South Wales.”

“We have got to stop thinking about the economy versus the environment and see clean technologies as a way to diversify, grow and make our economy more resilient.”

“Scientists can keep telling people about the problem until we are blue in the face. But what we really need to do is to come together, put our collective shoulder to the wheel and get on with fixing it.”

At the same time a new United Nations report has expressed “extreme concern” about the pressure on the Great Barrier Reef from coastal development and increased shipping.

The Australian Conservation Foundation said the report showed how important it was to not weaken national environmental laws.

ACF chief executive officer Don Henry said the news was a “national disgrace”.

He said: “The federal government should place an immediate moratorium on any new projects until it has completed a full strategic assessment on the impact the mining boom and coastal developments are having on the reef.

“Big mining proposals are putting pressure on the Great Barrier Reef and the adjoining Coral Sea.

“At the same time the mining industry is trying to weaken our existing environmental laws.

“Just in the last fortnight the ecologically-diverse Shark Reef in the Coral Sea had a close shave when a bulk carrier broke down and was only metres away from crashing into the reef.

“We have to make sure our national environmental laws are properly protecting this unique ecological jewel so ad hoc decision-making in Queensland does not damage the Great Barrier Reef and the Coral Sea for the future.”