This story includes details about the impacts of climate change that may be difficult for some readers. If you are feeling overwhelmed by this crisis situation here is a list of resources on how to cope with fears and feelings about the scope and pace of the climate crisis.
The Earth is in “uncharted territory” when it comes to the environmental, social, and economic impacts of climate change, according to the latest analysis by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), released at the beginning of the COP 26 climate summit in Glasgow.
So far, this year’s global mean temperature is registering at about 1.08°C above pre-industrial levels, making 2021 the sixth- or seventh-warmest year recorded globally (the years spanning 2015 to 2021 are the seven on record). The WMO warns of the consequences of failing to take immediate global climate action.
“At the current rate of increase in greenhouse gas concentrations, we will see temperatures increase by the end of this century far in excess of the Paris Agreement targets of 1.5 to 2°C above pre-industrial levels,” WMO Secretary General Petteri Taalas told media.
According to the report, atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide continued rising from 2020 while the world experienced devastating physical effects from climate change: heat waves broke temperature records in several locations, high temperatures and droughts caused wildfires, droughts, and heat-related deaths, glaciers and ice caps melted rapidly, and heavy rainfall caused severe flooding.
“Extreme events are becoming the new norm,” tweeted the WMO.
The organization assessed various climate indicators to give a broad view of climate change at a global scale, with oceans highlighted in the report. Globally, acidification and rising temperatures due to higher greenhouse gas concentrations is harming marine organisms and ecosystems. The Global Mean Seal Level (GMSL) reached a record high in 2021, rising twice as fast between 2013 and 2021 as during 1993 to 2002.
As alarming as these impacts are on their own, even more concerning is the fact that oceanic changes will be irreversible for hundreds if not thousands of years, according to the science assessment released in August by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
Other key indicators assessed in the report include the melting cryosphere, stratospheric impacts, and drivers of short-term variability, all of which put human and natural systems at severe risk. The WMO says extreme natural disasters offer the most acute threats to human safety and economic stability—disasters that occurred during the three years between 2018 and 2020 affected a total of 319 million people and caused US$148.32 billion in economic losses. Those combined outcomes ripple out to drive spikes in food insecurity and population displacement.
Taken together, the WMO found that the impacts of climate change are having major, degrading effects on natural ecosystems and their ability to support human life. But Taalas also noted that there is more political attention around climate change than ever before, and humanity now has the technological means and resources to take action. Trends are “moving in the right direction” to avoid the worst scenarios of 4-5°C warming, he said, but are not yet on track to stay below the 2°C target in the 2015 Paris deal.
“Scientists are clear on the facts,” UN Secretary General António Guterres said in a video statement preceding the media event. “Now leaders need to be just as clear in their actions. The door is open; the solutions are there. COP 26 must be a turning point. We must act now—with ambition and solidarity—to safeguard our future and save humanity.”