Major climate change indicators hit record highs in 2021: UN

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Our climate is changing before our eyes” said  WMO chief Petteri Taalas

New Delhi: The four major indicators of climate change all set new records during 2021, said the new report from the World Metrological Originations (WMO), and warned that the global energy system was driving humanity towards catastrophe.

Greenhouse gas concentrations, sea level rises, ocean heat, and acidification all set new records during 2021, WMO said, in its State of the Global Climate in 2021 report released on Wednesday.

The report indicates that extreme weather,  the day-to-day face of climate change – wreaked a heavy toll on human lives, triggered shocks for food and water security, and led to hundreds of billions of dollars in economic losses last year.

” Our climate is changing before our eyes,” said  WMO chief Petteri Taalas

The heat trapped by human-induced greenhouse gases will warm the planet for many generations to come”, warned  Petteri Taalas.  Added that “Sea level rise, ocean heat, and acidification will continue for hundreds of years unless means to remove carbon from the atmosphere are invented”.

On the greenhouse gas concentration, the report said, Levels reached a new global high in 2020 and continued to increase in 2021, with the concentration of carbon dioxide reaching 413.2 parts per million globally, a 149% increase on pre-industrial levels.

“Another record high. The upper 2,000m depth of ocean water continued to warm in 2021 and it is expected that it will continue to warm in the future – a change which is irreversible on centennial to millennial time scales, and affects deeply marine ecosystems such as coral reefs” it said.

Ocean acidification, the report mentioned that  Because of the excess carbon dioxide (CO2) the ocean is absorbing (some 23% of annual emissions), its waters are increasingly acidifying.

This has consequences for organisms and ecosystems, and also threatens human food security and tourism.

The decreasing PH level also means the ocean’s capacity to absorb CO2 from the atmosphere also decreases.

Sea level increased a record of 4.5 mm per year over the period 2013-2021, mainly due to the accelerated loss of ice mass from the ice sheets.

This has major implications for hundreds of millions of coastal dwellers and increases vulnerability to tropical cyclones.

The world’s glaciers that scientists use as a reference have thinned by 33.5 meters since 1950, with 76% happening since 1980.

In 2021, glaciers in Canada and the US Northwest had a record ice mass loss because of heatwaves and fires in June and July.

Greenland also experienced an exceptional mid-August melt and the first-ever recorded rainfall at its highest point.

Flooding caused economic losses of US$17.7 billion in Henan province of China, as well as 20 billion in Germany. It was also a factor leading to heavy loss of life.

Droughts affected many parts of the world, including the Horn of Africa, South America, Canada, the western United States, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Turkey.

Worsening humanitarian crises in 2021 have also led to a growing number of countries at risk of famine. Of the total number of undernourished people in 2020, more than half live in Asia (418 million) and a third in Africa (282 million).

Hazards related to water events continued to contribute to internal displacement. The countries with the highest numbers of displacements recorded as of October 2021 were China (more than 1.4 million), the Philippines (more than 386,000), and Viet Nam (more than 664,000).

Calling the report, a “dismal litany of humanity’s failure to tackle climate disruption”, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said that while time is running out to prevent the worst impacts of the climate crisis, there is a ‘lifeline’ right in front of us.

“We must end fossil fuel pollution and accelerate  the renewable energy  transition before we incinerate our only home… Transforming energy systems is low-hanging fruit”, he emphasized in a video message.

Highlighting that renewable energy technologies such as wind and solar are readily available and in most cases, cheaper than coal and other fossil fuels, the UN chief proposed five critical actions to jump-start the energy transition, which he called the “peace project of the 21st century”.

The WMO State of the Global Climate report complements the latest assessment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change which only included data up to 2019, and it will be used as a negotiation document during the upcoming UN Climate Conference in Egypt (COP 27) later this year.

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