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Carbon dioxide concentrations peak just before the northern hemisphere spring, when plants start soaking up the gas as they grow. Southern hemisphere seasons have less effect since there are fewer land masses and plantssouth of the equator.

The Zeppelin station is run in cooperation with Stockholm University and is one of the main measuring points along with a station in Hawaii. Remoteness from industrial centers helps.

Levels have hit peaks almost every year in recent decades, bolstering theories of warming, and are far above 270 ppm before the Industrial Revolution of the 18th century. Climate scientists say the heat-trapping gas is blanketing the planet.

Levels are at a new high,” said Kim Holmen, research director of the Norwegian Polar Institute which oversees the Zeppelin measuring station on the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard about 1,200 km (750 miles) from the North Pole.

He told Reuters that concentrations of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas emitted largely by burning fossil fuels in power plants, factories and cars, had risen to 390 parts per million (ppm) from 388 a year ago.

Holmen said the increase of 2 ppm from 2006 reflected an accelerating rise in recent years. “When I was young, scientists were talking about 1 ppm rise” every year, he said. “Since 2000 it has been a very rapid rate.”

“The large increases in release rates are definitely in the Asian economies,” led by China, he said. China is opening coal-fired power plants at the rate of almost one a week.

China: coal, methane pits, oil and gas pipelines

Coal is a prime source of carbon dioxide and coal has built China. Eighty per cent of China’s electricity comes from coal, and there are plans for 544 new coal-fired power stations to meet an insatiable demand for energy. If the power plants go ahead, it will be all but impossible to avoid dangerous climate change.

China also plans to extend its oil and gas pipelines by nearly 63 percent by 2010 to meet rising energy demand, according to the nation’s key pipeline builder.

Around 25,000 kilometers of energy pipelines will be added in the period, Su Shifeng, director of the China Petroleum Pipeline Bureau, was quoted as saying late last week by Xinhua news agency. China now has 40,000 kilometers of energy pipelines.

The Chinese government will fund 2.6 million more rural households to build methane pits, which provide clean energy and protect local environment, in 2007, according to the Ministry of Agriculture.

Wei Chao’an, vice minister of agriculture, said that the 2.6 million rural households would be selected from the western and major grain producing regions in the country.

The government will grant a subsidy ranging from 800 yuan (about 100 U.S. dollars) to 1,200 yuan for each household to build one pit, in view of their locations, Wei said.
Governmental statistics show that a total of 18 million rural families had each built a methane pit by the end of 2005.

An eight-cubic-meter methane pit can provide 80 percent of the energy used by a four-member family in cooking annually. The 18 million methane pits produce energy equivalent to 10.9 million tons of coal and save 3.96 million hectares of forest.

Since the 1970s, China has been promoting the use of methane pits to process rural organic wastes.

What the scientists say

Scientists say the concentration of carbon dioxide, according to the modern records, is at its highest in the atmosphere in at least 650,000 years.

The world’s top climate scientists said in a report on February 2 they were more than 90 percent certain that human activities, led by burning fossil fuels, were to blame for warming. That was up from 66 percent certainty in a previous report in 2001.

The U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said that temperature rises were set to accelerate and could gain by between 1.1 and 6.4 Celsius (2.0-11.5 Fahrenheit) by 2100, bringing more floods, droughts and rising sea levels.

Apart from human emissions from burning fossil fuels, he said there were other factors that could affect carbon dioxide levels in future.

On the one hand, plants may grow more in a warmer world, soaking up more carbon dioxide. But if the soil gets warmer, dead plants and leaves may rot more in winter, releasing more carbon.

Any heating of the oceans may means less absorption of carbon dioxide, partly because the greater buoyancy of warmer water inhibits a mixing with deeper levels.

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