The temporary reduction in carbon emissions caused by global Covid-19 lockdowns did not slow the relentless advance of climate change. Greenhouse gas concentrations are at record levels, and the planet is on the path toward dangerous overheating, a multi-agency climate report published on Thursday warns.
According to the landmark United in Science 2021, there “is no sign of growing back greener,” as carbon dioxide emissions are rapidly accelerating, after a temporary blip in 2020 due to Covid, and nowhere close to the targets set by the Paris Agreement.
“We have reached a tipping point on the need for climate action. The disruption to our climate and our planet is already worse than we thought, and it is moving faster than predicted,” UN Secretary-General António Guterres underscored in a video message. “This report shows just how far off course we are,” he added.
According to scientists, the rising global temperatures are already fueling devastating extreme weather events around the world, with escalating impacts on economies and societies.
“We now have five times the number of recorded weather disasters than we had in 1970 and they are seven times more costly. Even the most developed countries have become vulnerable,” the UN chief said.
Guterres cited how 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.
“These events would have been impossible without human-caused climate change. Costly fires, floods and extreme weather events are increasing everywhere. These changes are just the beginning of worse to come,” he warned.
The report echoes some of the data and warnings from experts in the last year: The average global temperature for the past five years was among the highest on record, and there is an increasing likelihood that temperatures will temporarily breach the threshold of 1.5-degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial era in the next five years.
The picture painted by United in Science is bleak: Even with ambitious action to slow greenhouse gas emissions, sea levels will continue to rise and threaten low-lying islands and coastal populations throughout the world.
“We really are out of time. We must act now to prevent further irreversible damage. COP26 this November must mark that turning point. By then we need all countries to commit to achieve net zero emissions by the middle of this century and to present clear, credible long-term strategies to get there,” the UN chief urged.
The 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference, also known as COP26, is scheduled to be held in the city of Glasgow, Scotland between 31 October and 12 November 2021. The pivotal meeting is expected to set the course of climate action for the next decade.
“We must urgently secure a breakthrough on adaptation and resilience, so that vulnerable communities can manage these growing (climate) risks… I expect all these issues to be addressed and resolved at COP26. Our future is at stake,” Guterres emphasized.
“We are not yet on track toward the Paris 1.5 to 2 degrees’ limit, although positive things have started to happen and the political interest to mitigate climate change is clearly growing, but to be successful in this effort, we have to start acting now. We cannot wait for decades to act, we have to start acting already in this decade,” added Prof. Petteri Taalas, World Meteorological Organization’s secretary general.
The report also cites the conclusions of the most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report: The scale of recent changes across the climate system are unprecedented over many centuries to many thousands of years, and it is unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, ocean and land.