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We are heading towards a three-degree hotter world, the World Meteorological Organisation tells the UN climate summit in Madrid

The effect of Cyclone Bulbul, which hit India and Bangladesh in November 2019 (Photo by Jago Nari)

The years from 2010 to 2019 have been a decade of “exceptional” heat, the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) said in a report released at the annual United Nations climate summit being held in Madrid, Spain. These years were “almost certainly” the warmest since records began in the 19th century, the UN agency said.

The December 2-13 Madrid climate summit, aka COP25, is taking place amid pressure to boost national ambitions to cut greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions that are driving climate change.

But in reality, concentrations of carbon dioxide (CO2), methane and nitrous oxide, the main GHGs, reached new highs in 2018, WMO said. The State of the Global Climate report for 2019 accounts for the year up to October, when the global mean temperature was 1.1 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels.

“If we do not take immediate action, we are headed for a (global) temperature increase of more than 3 degrees Celsius by the end of the century, which will have ever more harmful impacts on human well-being,” WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas said.

WMO’s assessment warns that GHG concentrations in the atmosphere have reached record levels in 2019. The rate at which sea levels are rising has quickened, mainly because glaciers in Greenland and Antarctica are melting at a faster rate, it said. As the oceans also become hotter, acidity is increasing, threatening marine biodiversity.

Taalas said there were no indications of any improvement and warming continues at an alarming pace. It was evident in the extreme weather events that took place in 2019, he pointed out.

There were extreme heat waves in Europe and India before the delayed arrival of the monsoon rains in June. Australia experienced its hottest January on record. There were marine heatwaves, which kills corals, among other harmful effects.

“We have also seen a change in precipitation patterns and more storms,” Taalas said. Cyclone Idai devastated Mozambique and Hurricane Dorian left Bahamas in ruins. In India, Cyclones Fani and Bulbul caused extensive damage to property and demolished more than half a million houses in Odisha and West Bengal on the Bay of Bengal coast. “We have seen increase in weather-related disasters,” the WMO chief said.

WMO had said on November 25 that  GHG levels in the atmosphere have reached a new high. Globally averaged concentrations of CO2 reached 407.8 parts per million (ppm) in 2018, up from 405.5 ppm in 2017, according to its Greenhouse Gas Bulletin. The increase in CO2 from 2017 to 2018 was above the average growth rate over the last decade, WMO had said.

Global temperatures will rise by an average 3.2 degrees Celsius by the end of the century if countries continue to just meet commitments made under the 2015 Paris Agreement, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) warned on November 26 in its annual Emission Gap Report 2019.

Read: Act now to stop climate breakdown

G20 nations accounted for 78% of all emissions, but only five G20 members have committed to a long-term zero emissions target, said the 10th edition of the Emissions Gap Report. Each year, UNEP assesses the gap between anticipated emissions in 2030 and levels consistent with the aims of the Paris Agreement.

It found that GHG emissions have risen 1.5% per year over the last decade. Emissions in 2018, including from land-use changes such as deforestation, hit a new high of 55.3 gigatonnes of CO2 equivalent.

“Our collective failure to act early and hard on climate change means we now must deliver deep cuts to emissions,” Inger Andersen, Executive Director of UNEP, had said at the release of the report. “Countries simply cannot wait until the end of 2020, when new climate commitments are due, to step up action. They… need to act now.”

The year 2020 is critical for climate action, with the scheduled UN climate summit in Glasgow aiming to determine the future course of efforts to avert a crisis, and countries are expected to significantly step up their climate commitments.

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