The new report from the World Meteorological Organization released earlier this month points out the inadequacy of currents efforts to address the climate crisis. The ‘WMO Statement on the State of the Global Climate in 2019,’ based on the evaluation of global climate indicators through 2019, is another warning for decisive action before it is too late.
“We are currently way off track to meeting either the 1.5 °C or 2 °C targets that the Paris Agreement calls for. We need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 45% from 2010 levels by 2030 and reach net zero emissions by 2050. And for that, we need political will and urgent action to set a different path,” United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in a statement included in the report.
The WMO pegged global mean temperature for 2019 at around 1.1 °C above pre-industrial levels, with the year likely to have been the second warmest ever in recorded history. The report also points out record levels of greenhouse gases- carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide- in the atmosphere, record high levels of ocean heat content and ocean acidification levels in 2019.
Sea-ice extent was at unprecedented low levels in the polar regions. The daily Arctic sea-ice extent minimum in September 2019 was the second lowest in the satellite record. In Antarctica, variability in recent years has been high with the long-term increase offset by a large drop in extent in late 2016. Extents have since remained low, and 2019 saw record-low extents in some months.
Another revelation was the highest recorded value of global mean sea level, attributed partly to increased melting of ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica. As the ocean warms it expands and sea levels rise. This rise is further increased by the melting of ice on land, which then flows into the sea. Sea level has increased throughout the altimeter record, but recently sea level has risen at a higher rate. In 2019, the global mean sea level reached its highest value since the beginning of the high-precision altimetry record.
“Furthermore, in 2019, heatwaves, combined with long periods of drought, were linked to wildfires of unprecedented size. This was the case in Australia, where millions of hectares were set ablaze, and in Siberia and other Arctic regions hit by wildfires of record intensity,” WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas wrote in his foreword to the report.
“Besides these powerful phenomena, there has been weather-related damage, such as the effects of multi-annual droughts on the internal and cross-border migration of populations, greater exposure of the world population to health hazards due to heat and pollution, and the reduction of economic growth, especially in developing economies, due to rising temperatures and weather extremes,” Taalas wrote.
The UN Secretary General repeated that climate change is the defining challenge of our time. “Time is fast running out for us to avert the worst impacts of climate disruption and protect our societies from the inevitable impacts to come,” Guterres said in his statement.
Back in October 2018, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) ‘Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5° C’ had said that limiting global warming to 1.5° C would require rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society. The data in the latest WMO report show that 2019 was already 1.1 °C warmer than the pre-industrial era. The IPCC gave us 12 years to limit climate change catastrophe; nearly 2 years later, the WMO report is a grim reminder that we are running out of time!