“Climate science is clear: we are heading in the wrong direction”, declares a major, multi-agency UN climate science report released on Tuesday, with a focus on increasing fossil fuel emissions and rising greenhouse gases, now at a record high, which risks thwarting plans to reduce global temperatures and avoid climate catastrophe.
The researchers behind “Uniting in Science”, coordinated by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), studied several factors related to the climate crisis – from CO2 emissions, global temperature rises, and climate predictions; to “tipping points”, urban climate change, extreme weather impacts, and early warning systems.
One of the primary conclusions of the research is that significantly more ambitious action is needed if we are to avoid the physical and social repercussions of climate change having an increasingly destructive effect on the globe.
Greenhouse gas concentrations continue to grow to historic highs, and fossil fuel emission rates are back above pre-pandemic levels, following a temporary reduction due to lockdowns, pointing to a vast disparity between aspiration and reality. Cities, hosting billions of people, are responsible for up to 70 percent of human-caused emissions: they will confront escalating socio-economic repercussions, the brunt of which will be carried by the most vulnerable populations.
In order to fulfill the target of the Paris Agreement, namely reducing global temperature rises to 1.5 degrees Celsius over pre-industrial levels, greenhouse gas emission reduction promises need to be seven times greater, says the paper.
High chance of climate ‘tipping point
A climate “tipping point” is a threshold beyond which further changes to the climate system become inevitable. The paper adds that this cannot be ruled out: the past seven years were the warmest on record, and there is virtually a 50-50 possibility that, in the next five years, the annual mean temperature will temporarily be 1.5°C higher than 1850-1900 normal.
The report’s authors point to the recent, devastating floods in Pakistan, which have seen up to a third of the country inundated, as an illustration of the extreme weather occurrences in different regions of the world this year.
Wildfires and large hurricanes are further instances, as are protracted and severe droughts in China, the Horn of Africa, and the United States. “Climate science is increasingly able to indicate that many of the extreme weather events that we are seeing have grown more likely and more intense owing to human-induced climate change,” said WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas.
“We have seen this frequently this year, with disastrous effect. It is more vital than ever that we scale up action on early warning systems to improve resilience to present and future climate hazards in vulnerable communities”.
‘Early warnings save lives
Last week, a WMO group led by Mr. Taalas attended a two-day session in Cairo alongside Selwin Hart, the UN’s Assistant Secretary-General for Climate Action, and other high-ranking leaders from UN partners, development and humanitarian organizations, the diplomatic community, and WMO Members.
Plans to expand access to early warnings over the next five years were discussed at length during the discussion. The program was announced on World Meteorological Day (March 23) of the year 2022 by UN Secretary-General António Guterres, who emphasized the need for “early warnings” in preventing fatalities.
“Still Completely Off the Rails”
Mr. Guterres warned on Tuesday that the disastrous effects of climate change are leading us towards “uncharted frontiers of disaster.” Mr. Guterres, in response to the United in Science report, said that the most recent scientific evidence revealed that “we are still well off course,” and that it was shameful that efforts to strengthen communities’ ability to withstand the effects of climate change shocks were being so underfunded.
It is a shame, Mr. Guterres added, that affluent nations have not taken adaptation seriously and have instead shrugged off their obligations to assist the developing world. Financial support for adaptation is expected to increase to at least $300 billion annually by 2030.
The United Nations’ top official recently visited Pakistan to survey the devastation wrought by the country’s recent floods for himself. This, he added, drove home the need to allocate at least half of all climate financing to adaptation.
Uniting in Science: Some Key Findings
- New research on climate change, its effects, and potential solutions are summarised in United in Science. World Meteorological Organization (through its Global Atmosphere Watch and World Weather Research Programmes), United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR), World Climate Research Programme (WCRP), Global Carbon Project (GCP), UK Met Office (Met Office), and Urban Climate Change Research Network all contributed to the report. There are excerpts from the IPCC’s Sixth Assessment Study on climate change that are directly applicable to this report.
- Increases in the concentrations of CO2, CH4, and N 2O in the atmosphere are ongoing. Little was accomplished in slowing the increase of atmospheric concentrations of CO2 by the temporary reduction in 2020 emissions during the pandemic (what remains in the atmosphere after CO2 is absorbed by the ocean and biosphere).
- After dropping by 5.4% in 2020 as a result of widespread lockdowns, global fossil CO2 emissions in 2021 rose back to 2019 levels. The United States, India, and the majority of Europe are mostly responsible for the 1.2% increase in global CO2 emissions seen in 2022 (January–May) compared to the same period in 2019.
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- Since records have been kept, the years 2015-2021 have been the warmest on record. Estimates put the average global temperature for the period of 2018-2022 (using data up to May or June 2022) at 1.17 degrees Celsius (0.13 degrees Fahrenheit) above the 1850-1900 average.
- Since the ocean stores around 90% of the Earth’s accumulated heat, it should come as no surprise that the rate at which the ocean is warming during the past two decades has increased at a faster clip than any other five-year period.
- Some improvement in reducing greenhouse gas emissions is shown in new national mitigation promises for 2030, but this improvement is insufficient. To stay on track to limit warming to 2 degrees Celsius, these new pledges would need to be four times more ambitious and to stay on track to 1.5 degrees Celsius, they would need to be seven times more ambitious.
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