This year is set to be one of the three warmest ever recorded, the UN said on Wednesday, when the UN chief warned that the world was on the brink of “climate catastrophe”.
The last six years, 2015 to 2020, will be all six of the hottest years since modern records began in 1850, the United Nations World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said in its provisional report on the state of the global climate for 2020.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the 2020 report spells “how close we are to the climate catastrophe”.
“Apocalyptic fires and floods, cyclones and hurricanes are becoming more and more normal,” he said in a speech at Columbia University in New York on the state of the planet.
“Humanity is at war with nature. This is suicide. Nature always strikes back – and it is already doing so with growing force and rage.”
The Paris Agreement 2015 on Climate Change requires that global warming be limited well below two degrees above the pre-industrial level (1850-1900), while the countries will continue efforts to limit the increase to 1.5 C.
“Unfortunately, 2020 has been another extraordinary year for our climate,” said WMO Secretary General Petteri Taalas.
“The average global temperature in 2020 is set to be about 1.2 C above the pre-industrial level.
“There is at least one in five chances that it will temporarily exceed 1.5 C by 2024.”
WMO said that 2020 seemed to be the second hottest year ever.
The years 2015 to 2020 are therefore individually “probably the six warmest on the record”, the report states.
Temperature averages for the past five years, and over the past ten years, “are also the warmest on the record,” it added.
Neville Nicholls of Monash University in Melbourne said this was “proof that global warming is accelerating”.
“We took about a century for our greenhouse gases to heat the world by 1 C. We are about to add another 1 C over the next 30 years,” he said.
Oil, gas and coal production must fall six percent a year to limit catastrophic global warming, said the UN’s annual output gap assessment, which measures the difference between the Paris targets and countries’ fossil fuel production plans.
Greenhouse gases in the atmosphere – the main driver of climate change – reached record highs last year and continued to climb in 2020 despite measures to stop the Covid-19 pandemic.
The annual effect of the coronavirus crisis was expected to be a reduction in carbon dioxide emissions of between 4.2 and 7.5 percent.
However, CO2 remains in the atmosphere for centuries, which means that the pandemic is negligible.
Taalas was nevertheless encouraged by China’s bid for carbon neutrality until 2060 and US President-elect Joe Biden’s 2050 target, saying these and promises from the European Union, Japan and Canada could make countries like India and Russia follow suit.
Earlier on Wednesday, New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern declared a “climate event” and told parliament that urgent action was needed for future generations.
Forest fires, swelling Siberia
Taalas said that 2020 saw “new extreme temperatures on land, at sea and especially in the Arctic.
“Forest fires consumed large areas of Australia, Siberia, the west coast of the United States and South America.
“Floods in parts of Africa and Southeast Asia led to massive population movements and undermined food security for millions.”
The heat in northern Siberia reached 38 ° C at Verkhoyansk on June 20, preliminarily the highest known temperature anywhere north of the Arctic Circle.
This year’s La Nina cool phase in the Pacific Ocean’s surface temperatures cycles up the question of how hot 2020 would otherwise have been.
WMO said that more than 80 percent of the sea area had experienced at least one marine heat wave by 2020.
“Recently, sea levels have risen at a higher rate, partly due to increased melting of ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica,” the report states.
“In the Arctic, the annual minimum sea ice extent was the second lowest on record.”
Meanwhile, a record 30 named storms, including 13 hurricanes, formed in the Atlantic, which exhausted the alphabet and forced a change to the Greek alphabet for the second time ever.
The preliminary report for the Global Climate Report 2020 is based on temperature data from January to October.
The final report for 2020 will be published in March 2021.