Climate Change: Impacts ‘Accelerating’ As Leaders Gather For UN talks

The latest scientific report on climate change published just before the key UN talks in New York, says that the signs and impacts of global warming are speeding up.

The data which was compiled by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), states that the five-year period from 2014 to 2019 is the warmest on record.  Over the same period, sea-level rise has accelerated significantly while CO2 emissions have hit new highs.

The WMO reiterates that carbon-cutting efforts have to be intensified immediately.

The climate statement is a compilation of the latest science on the causes and growing impacts of unprecedented levels of warming seen in recent years.

The paper notes that global temperatures have risen by 1.1 degrees C since 1850 and even more significant is that they have gone up by 0.2C between 2011 and 2015. This is as a result of escalating emissions of carbon, with a 20% growth in the amount of gas going into the atmosphere between 2015 and 2019 as compared to the previous five years.

Even more worrying is the data on sea-level rise. Since 1993 until now the average rate of rise is 3.2mm per year. But, from May 2014 to 2019 the rise has surged to 5mm per year. The 10-year period from 2007-2016 saw an average of approximately 4mm per year.

WMO secretary-general Petteri Taalas, “Sea-level rise has accelerated and we are concerned that an abrupt decline in the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets, which will exacerbate future rise. As we have seen this year with tragic effect in the Bahamas and Mozambique, sea-level rise and intense tropical storms led to humanitarian and economic catastrophes.”

The report also emphasizes on the threats to the oceans, with over 90% of the excess heat caused by climate change ending up in the waters. The WMO analysis reveals that 2018 had the highest ocean heat content values on record.

The report underlines the fact that everywhere you look on the planet right now, the same story is evident in human-induced warming impacting the scale and intensity of extreme weather events like heatwaves and wildfires.

Prof Brian Hoskins, chair of the Grantham Institute, Imperial College London, and professor of meteorology, University of Reading, said, “Climate change due to us is accelerating and on a very dangerous course. We should listen to the loud cry coming from the schoolchildren. There is an emergency – one for action in both rapidly reducing our greenhouse gas emissions towards zero and adapting to the inevitable changes in climate.”

The WMO report was released before the special UN summit on climate change in New York to properly inform the range of political leaders attending the one-day event.  According to UN secretary-general António Guterres, this event was designed to be about action and not words.

He said ahead of the meeting, “I told leaders not to come with fancy speeches, but with concrete commitments. People want solutions, commitments and action. I expect there will be an announcement and unveiling of a number of meaningful plans on dramatically reducing emissions during the next decade, and on reaching carbon neutrality by 2050.”

Greta Thunberg and other youth activists, fresh from marching on the streets of New York on Friday, spoke at the opening of the meeting. Protesters with an inflatable version of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe came to the UN in protest over his support for coal. Around 60 heads of state attended with many countries announcing new actions to limit the causes of warming or discuss initiatives developed by a coalition of nations.

Mr. Guterres has asked that along with committing to net-zero emissions by 2050, countries should cut down subsidies for fossil fuels and stop building new coal-fired power stations. The issue of coal has led to the exclusion of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Australia’s Scott Morrison from speaking at the summit. Other countries like the US, Brazil, and Saudi Arabia also did not take part. Although US President Trump surprised all with a 15-minute visit.

The objective of the special summit was to address the urgency of action and the fact that delay would mean more difficult decisions down the line.

Petteri Taalas from the WMO, “It is highly important that we reduce greenhouse gas emissions, notably from energy production, industry and transport. This is critical if we are to mitigate climate change and meet the targets set out in the Paris Agreement. To stop a global temperature increase of more than 2 degrees C above pre-industrial levels, the level of ambition needs to be tripled. And to limit the increase to 1.5 degrees, it needs to be multiplied by five”.

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