Deadly heatwaves in Europe. Colossal floods in Pakistan. Prolonged and severe droughts in China, the Horn of Africa and the U.S. — and it’s all happening at once.
The ravages of costly extreme weather have picked up faster and with more intensity than earlier data indicated, a new report combining the efforts of the World Meteorological Organization and other climate change-monitoring bodies shows Tuesday.
The past seven years were the warmest for Earth on record. And looking forward, there is a 48% chance that, during at least one year in the next five years, the annual mean temperature will temporarily be 1.5 degrees Celsius higher than 1850-1900 average. That’s the temperature limit set at a major global Paris climate conference and it’s the goal that guides most climate-change policy these days. But even with that target in mind, as global warming persists, breaching “tipping points” in the climate system can not be ruled out, the group’s findings warned.
While the report noted global pledges to cut emissions show some realization among leadership of the risks ahead, those plans may fall short.
“New national mitigation pledges for 2030 show some progress toward lowering greenhouse gas emissions, but are insufficient,” the report says. “The ambition of these new pledges would need to be four times higher to get on track to limit warming to 2 °C and seven times higher to get on track to 1.5 °C.”
The accompanying assessment of the report from the United Nations spares few words in singling out the would-be culprit.
“There is nothing natural about the new scale of these disasters. They are the price of humanity’s fossil-fuel WBS00, -1.55% addiction,” U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres said in response to the WMO’s “United in Science” report.
“This year’s United in Science report shows climate impacts heading into uncharted territories of destruction,” Guterres added. “Yet each year we double-down on this fossil fuel addiction, even as the symptoms get rapidly worse. Even as we know the cure.”
The auto industry GM, -2.16% F, -3.44% has broadly accepted the adoption of electric vehicles TSLA, -3.99% over gas-powered engines in coming years, but uptake may be slower than some climate policy demands. The fossil fuel industry, especially operators in the natural gas NG00, +0.90% markets, argues for a continued role in a shift to more wind, solar, nuclear and hydrogen power ICLN, -1.60%, citing cost burdens on consumers, clean-up efforts to date and the ability of the U.S. to control its own energy destiny over powerhouses like the Middle East and Russia.
“”This year’s “United in Science” report shows climate impacts heading into uncharted erritories of destruction. Yet each year we double-down on this fossil fuel addiction.’”
Climate-policy champions say the weather headlines themselves show a moderate approach is too risky. The U.N. had some handy stats Tuesday to help make its case. The number of weather, climate and water-related disasters has increased by a factor of five over the past 50 years, it says. And daily current economic losses linked to climate change total more than $200 million dollars.
Even existing global-warming temperature goals may not be enough to turn away the worst of climate change, the WMO-led report argues. Global leaders pledged in the voluntary 2015 Paris Agreement to limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius, mostly by cutting the emissions that come with burning oil and gas, and by building out climate resilience so that the economic impact of rising seas and other developments could be limited. But the report issued Tuesday and the position of the U.N.’s Guterres indicates that the richest nations in particular are falling short.
“All countries must boost their national climate ambition every year, until we are on track,” Guterres said. “The G-20 [largest economies], which is responsible for 80% of global emissions, must lead the way. There must be no new coal plants built, with coal phased out by 2030 for [Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development] countries, and by 2040 for all others. The current fossil fuel free-for-all must end now.”
Report authors said that the ability to track and respond to climate change is improving, if nations will adopt more of an emergency response.
“Climate science is increasingly able to show that many of the extreme weather events that we are experiencing have become more likely and more intense due to human-induced climate change. We have seen this repeatedly this year, with tragic effect,” said WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas.
“It is more important than ever that we scale up action on early warning systems to build resilience to current and future climate risks in vulnerable communities,” Taalas said. “That is why WMO is spearheading a drive to ensure [a program called] Early Warnings for All in the next five years.”
“ The ambition of these new pledges would need to be four times higher to get on track to limit warming to 2 °C and seven times higher to get on track to 1.5 °C.”
A separate report issued last week offered a new assessment of tipping points within the climate system and indicates that far more stringent emissions cuts may be needed even when compared to the most ambitious current plans. The U.S. under the Biden administration , for instance, said it aims to halve greenhouse gas emissions by as soon as 2030, on the way to net-zero emissions by 2050. The pledge is largely aligned with the bulk of the industrialized world, although China’s target year is 2060.
That earlier study finds that even the Paris Agreement’s most stringent warming target of 1.5°C compared to preindustrial levels could trigger some of the expected tipping points, including the abrupt thawing of permanently frozen soil that rings the Arctic and the die-off of warm-water coral reefs.
And regional tipping points, such as the drying of the Amazon rainforest, may have serious local consequences with cascading global impacts, the WMO said.
But the report hits as global energy supplies remain in flux, in part due to a strong rebound in demand after the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic, and amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, both resource-rich nations.
Emergency action to ease an energy crisis in the U.K. and continental Europe, particularly before the winter heating crunch, has renewed calls for coal use, while at the same time reinvigorating pro-alternative energy camps who favor what can be more local control over solar, wind, nuclear and other sources. For now, Russia’s squeeze on natural gas supplies NG00, +0.90% is starting to hit sectors well beyond utilities and energy-intensive industries.
“‘Climate science is increasingly able to show that many of the extreme weather events that we are experiencing have become more likely and more intense due to human-induced climate change.’”
The report made a case that population concentrations are particularly vulnerable.
Cities — home to 55% of the global population, or 4.2 billion people — are responsible for up to 70% of human-caused emissions while also highly exposed to the impacts of climate change, such as increased heavy precipitation, accelerated sea-level rise, acute and chronic coastal flooding and extreme heat, among other key risks. These impacts exacerbate socioeconomic challenges and inequalities, the report said.