Critical global indicators of the climate crisis broke records in 2021, from rising oceans to levels of emissions trapping heat in the atmosphere, according to a UN report.
The United Nations’ World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said these were clear signs of humanity’s impact on the planet, which was having lasting effects. Extreme weather, which the WMO has called the daily face of the climate emergency, has taken a heavy toll on human lives and resulted in hundreds of billions of dollars in damage, the agency said.
Droughts and floods triggered food price increases that were exacerbated in 2022. The WMO’s State of the World’s Climate 2021 report also revealed that the past seven years have been the hottest on record. .
“Today’s State of the Climate Report is a sad litany of humanity’s failure to address climate change. Fossil fuels are a dead end – ecologically and economically,” said António Guterres, the UN secretary general.
“The only sustainable future is a renewable future. The good news is that the lifeline is right in front of us. Wind and solar are readily available and in most cases cheaper than coal and other fossil fuels. If we act together, the transformation of renewable energy can be the peace project of the 21st century.
Professor Petteri Taalas, WMO Secretary-General, said: “Our climate is changing before our eyes. Man-made greenhouse gases will warm the planet for many generations to come. Some glaciers have reached the point of no return and this will have long term repercussions in a world where more than 2 billion people are already suffering from water stress.
“Extreme weather conditions have the most immediate impact on our daily lives,” he said. “We are witnessing an emergency situation due to drought in the Horn of Africa, recent deadly floods in South Africa and extreme heat in India and Pakistan. Early warning systems are essential [to save lives] yet these are only available in less than half of WMO’s 187 member countries.
The world’s oceans absorb more than 90% of the heat trapped by greenhouse gases and 2021 has set a record. Increasing ocean heat, which is irreversible on timescales ranging from centuries to millennia, has been particularly strong over the past 20 years. Much of the ocean experienced at least one strong marine heatwave in 2021, the WMO said.
Global sea level also hit a new record high in 2021. It has risen 10cm since 1993 and the rise is accelerating, driven by melting ice caps and glaciers and thermal expansion of the ocean. . The rise puts hundreds of millions of coastal residents at risk, the WMO said, and increases damage from hurricanes and cyclones.
Almost a quarter of the CO2 the emissions are absorbed by the oceans, but this makes them more acidic. This threatens wildlife and shell-forming corals and therefore food security, tourism and coastal protection, the WMO said. The oceans are now more acidic than at least 26,000 years ago.
CO2 and methane, a potent greenhouse gas, are at record levels, along with CO2 50% higher concentration than before the industrial revolution triggered the massive burning of fossil fuels. The global temperature in 2021 was 1.1°C above the pre-industrial average, approaching the 1.5°C limit agreed by nations around the world to avoid the worst climate impacts.
The WMO noted exceptional heat waves in 2021 in western North America and the Mediterranean, deadly floods in Henan, China and Western Europe, and rains recorded for the first time at the summit. of the Greenland ice sheet. The agency warned that East Africa faces a high risk of no rain for a fourth consecutive season, which means the worst drought in 40 years.
Professor James Hansen, who warned the world of the climate crisis during testimony before the US Senate in 1988, said this week that there was “a dramatic and continuing failure of governments to adopt energy policies and effective climate change in the long term.
“We must all be aware that demands for effective policies will only bring about superficial change until the role of vested interests in government is addressed.”
Last week, the Guardian revealed that 195 oil and gas “carbon bombs” were planned by the industry, i.e. projects each producing at least a billion tonnes of CO2. These carbon bombs alone would cause global warming beyond the 1.5°C limit, but the top dozen oil companies are on track to spend $103 million a day through 2030 on anti-climate programs.