Ocean and surface temperatures last year were the highest on record, average global temperature was 1.1°C above pre-industrial levels, the Earth lost more ice than it gained for a 32nd year in a row, and sea levels hit an all-time high, prompting United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres to declare humanity “way off track” from getting climate change under control in his foreword to the World Meteorological Organization’s latest annual climate assessment.
“Climate change is the defining challenge of our time. We are currently way off track to meeting either the 1.5°C or 2.0°C targets that the Paris Agreement calls for,” Guterres wrote. “Time is fast running out for us to avert the worst impacts of climate disruption and protect our societies.”
Which means “we need more ambition on [emission cuts], adaptation, and finance in time for the climate conference, COP 26, in Glasgow, UK, in November. That is the only way to ensure a safer, more prosperous and sustainable future for all people on a healthy planet.”
Scientists “said the threat was greater than that from the coronavirus, and world leaders must not be diverted away from climate action,” The Guardian reports.
While 2016 still stands as the warmest year on record, WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas said that mark may soon be eclipsed in light of continually-rising greenhouse gas levels.
“A recent decadal forecast indicates that a new annual global temperature record is likely in the next five years. It is a matter of time,” he said. “Last year, emissions dropped in developed countries, despite the growing economy,” showing that “you can detach economic growth from emission growth. The bad news is that, in the rest of the world, emissions grew last year. So if we want to solve this problem, we have to have all the countries onboard.”
Taalas added that countries still aren’t keeping their promises under the 2015 Paris deal. “There’s clearly a need for higher ambition levels if we’re serious about climate mitigation.”
The report contains an around-the-world inventory of climate impacts in 2019, including an extended heat wave in Europe that produced 20,000 emergency hospital admissions and 1,462 premature deaths in France alone, and was made five times more likely by climate change. The Guardian points to heat waves in India and Japan, heat and devastating bushfires in Australia, cyclones in Mozambique and south Asia, hurricanes in the Caribbean and North America, flooding in Iran, the Philippines, and Ethiopia, and heavy rains that produced US$20 billion in losses in the United States alone.
“Unpredictable climate and extreme weather was a factor in 26 of the 33 nations that were hit by food crises in 2019, and was the main driver in 12 of the countries,” the paper adds. “The WMO said unusually heavy precipitation in late 2019 was also a factor in the severe desert locust outbreak in the Horn of Africa, which is the worst in decades and expected to spread further by June 2020 in a severe threat to food security.”
“After a decade of steady decline, hunger is on the rise again—over 820 million suffered from hunger in 2018, the latest global data available,” the report stated.
“This annual litany of climate change impacts and inadequate global responses makes for a gut-wrenching read,” University of Edinburgh climate scientist David Reay told The Guardian. “Writ large is the ‘threat multiplier’ effect that is climate change on the biggest challenges faced by humanity and the world’s ecosystems in the 21st century.”
“The report is a catalogue of weather in 2019 made more extreme by climate change, and the human misery that went with it,” added Imperial College of London meteorologist and climatologist Sir Brian Hoskins. “It points to a threat that is greater to our species than any known virus—we must not be diverted from the urgency of tackling it by reducing our greenhouse gas emissions to zero as soon as possible.”