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March 29, 2019

The State of the Climate | New WMO report is yet another wake-up call


  • The average global temperature is 1°C warmer than before the industrial revolution, heading rapidly to the 1.5°C goal that nearly 200 countries agreed to under the Paris agreement.

  • The years between 2015 and 2018 were the four warmest on record.

  • From sea-level rise to forest fires, increased flooding and heatwaves, there’s a range of indicators from 2018 that show the impact of climate change.

What is the report? 

This year’s State of the Climate report from the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) is the 25th annual edition of their climate findings. Released on Thursday 28 March 2019, this new report presents the latest science on the state of the climate as we know it.

When the first WMO report came out in 1993, The World Wide Web was being born and Jurassic Park was a roaring success. It was also the year that carbon dioxide levels were at 357 parts per million (ppm) in the atmosphere. This has now risen to 405.5ppm and is expected to increase steadily further.

This is having a significant impact on temperatures, with 2018 the fourth warmest year on record, almost 1°C above what they were between 1850-1900.

The WMO climate statement includes input from national meteorological and hydrological bodies, an extensive community of scientific experts, and UN agencies. It details climate-related risks and impacts on human health and welfare, migration and displacement, food security, the environment and ocean and land-based ecosystems. It also catalogues extreme weather around the world.

The physical signs and socio-economic impacts of climate change are accelerating as record greenhouse gas concentrations drive global temperatures towards increasingly dangerous levels, according to the report.

“[Hurricane] Idai’s victims personify why we need the global agenda on sustainable development, climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction,” WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas.1

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It’s another sign of things to come

The WMO clearly says that the physical and financial impacts of global warming are accelerating. As the report spells out, the temperature is rising. But hidden within the average global temperature of 1°C increase is a huge disparity and much larger increases in some regions last year. In the Arctic, the annual average temperature was 2°C higher and even up to 3°C higher in some places.

Some of the most abnormal conditions were seen in the summer heatwave in northern Europe, which wrought wildfires across 25,000 hectares in Sweden, as well as fires in the UK, Norway and Germany. France and Germany had their warmest year on record, while new temperature records were set in Japan.

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What are the indicators being reported on? 

When we think of climate change indicators, we tend to mainly think about Arctic ice loss. And while that’s more prevalent than ever, with the Greenland ice sheet having lost approx 3,600 gigatons of ice mass since 2002, there’s many more we need to sit up and pay attention to.

Scientists have turned to the ocean for a range of indicators that climate change is having unprecedented impacts. Coral bleaching, reduced levels of oxygen in the oceans, and sea level rise are all key alarm bells.

Sea levels continue to increase with global average sea level rising 3.7mm higher in 2018 than the previous year. There’s also the loss of “Blue Carbon” associated with coastal ecosystems such as mangroves, seagrasses and salt marshes that is worrying scientists.

“This report highlights the increase in the rate of sea-level rise, and this is a real concern for those living in low-lying coastal areas, for both developed and developing countries,” said Dr Sally Brown, a research fellow at the University of Southampton.

Wabumari coastline house

The interconnections between climate and air quality are also being exacerbated by climate change. Between 2000 and 2016, the number of people exposed to heatwaves was estimated to have increased by around 125 million.

In 2018, most of the natural hazards which affected nearly 62 million people were associated with extreme weather and climate events. Floods continued to affect the largest number of people; more than 35 million. The Indian state of Kerala suffered the heaviest rainfall and worst flooding in nearly a century. Furthermore, half a billion more people, including Canada and parts of northern Europe could be newly exposed to mosquito-transmitted diseases such as yellow-fever, zika and dengue within 30 years as a result of the warming climate, according to a new study, unless we take combative action on global warming.

 

What should we do?

Limiting global warming to 1.5°C will require rapid and far-reaching transitions in land, energy, industry, buildings, transport and cities. The global net human-caused emissions of carbon dioxide need to fall by about 45% from 2010 levels by 2030, reaching net zero around 2050 if we are to limit the impacts on society and nature.

Rainforest must take centre-stage in any action taken. Tropical forest forms incredible ecosystems and offers incomparable natural carbon mitigation. These features must be acknowledged and protected if we are to rapidly reduce atmospheric carbon levels. The Congo Basin rainforest alone is estimated to store in the equivalent of 85 billion tons of carbon dioxide.

It’s not easy to be optimistic when reading these reports. But we can make a difference; not only in protecting rainforest and reducing emissions but also in helping to increase the resilience of the communities who are already facing the effects of climate change.

Rainforest aerial shot

By focusing on tropical deforestation, Cool Earth is addressing one of the most important global issues, and by supporting rainforest communities, you will be empowering the people that are capable of making a real and lasting difference.

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