All naturally occurring climate events are now related to human-induced climate change and extreme events previously seen once a century may now happen every 20 years, the head of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said on Thursday.
“The last five years have been the warmest five-year period on record since we started measurements in 1850,” Petteri Taalas said at a news conference to launch the United in Science 2021 Report.
“Because of climate change, the kind of events that used to happen every 100 years, may happen nowadays, every 20 years, and in the future even more often. So, the risk of these kinds of events is growing because of climate change.”
The multiagency report states that the COVID-19 pandemic and resultant global economic slowdown did not deter the relentless advance of climate change.
According to the report, greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere remain at record levels, leaving the planet vulnerable to dangerous warming in the future.
“We are still significantly off-schedule to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement,” UN chief Antonio Guterres says in the foreword to the report, noting that 2021 has seen fossil fuel emissions bounce back and greenhouse gas concentrations continuing to soar.
Severe human-enhanced weather events have affected health, lives, and livelihoods on every continent, he added.
“Unless there are immediate, rapid, and large-scale reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius will be impossible, with catastrophic consequences for people and the planet on which we depend,” said Guterres, who also addressed the news conference via video link.
“We have reached the tipping point on the need for climate action. The disruption to our climate and our planet is already worse than we thought. It is moving faster than predicted.”
Threat to developed countries
According to the UN head, even the most developed countries have become vulnerable.
“Hurricane Ida recently cut power to over a million people in New Orleans, and New York City was paralyzed by record-breaking rain that killed at least 50 people in the region,” he recalled.
Guterres also cited the unprecedented floods that devastated parts of western Europe and the exceptionally deadly heat wave that killed hundreds in the northwest of the US and western Canada.
WMO chief Taalas said people who died of COVID-19 were the “same type of people who are also sensitive to changes in temperature patterns.”
“These heat wave events cause mortality and especially those elderly and sick people who have died of COVID-19 have also typically been dying because of heatwaves,” he warned.
“Improved early warnings and disaster risk management means that we are better at saving lives, but the socioeconomic and humanitarian impacts are spiraling in the form of worsening food insecurity, more displacement, migration, and the potential for unrest.”