The concentration of greenhouse gas carbon dioxide touched a record high in 2016, the World Meteorological Organization reported. The data showed that the speed at which these emissions have increased is unprecedented.

According to the United Nations body, the carbon dioxide levels shot up because of a combination of human activities and a strong El Niño event. This has the potential to cause unprecedented changes in climate systems, leading to “severe ecological and economic disruptions”, the WMO said.

Last year, the average concentrations of carbon dioxide hit 403.3 parts per million, up from 400 ppm in 2015. “It is the largest increase we have ever seen in the 30 years we have had this network,” Dr Oksana Tarasova, chief of WMO’s global atmosphere watch programme, was quoted as saying by BBC.

Without rapid reduction in levels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, the planet will experience dangerous temperature increases by the end of the century, which will be well above the target set by the Paris climate deal, WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas said, warning: “Future generations will inherit a much more inhospitable planet.”

The figures in the report indicate the levels of carbon dioxide left in the atmosphere after significant amounts are absorbed by the earth’s “sinks”, which include forests, vegetation and oceans.

Atmospheric carbon dioxide levels over the last 8,00,000 years remained below 280 ppm, and have risen exponentially since the Industrial Revolution.