Hottest years in history are upon us as sea levels reach new high
COP26: Plastic spotted washed up on shore in Glasgow
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This year is likely to have been the fifth to seventh hottest, the UN’s annual state of the global climate report revealed. Talking about the World Meteorological Organisation’s (WMO) report, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said scientists are “clear on the facts” but world leaders “need to be just as clear in their actions”. In a video statement, he said: “From the ocean depths to mountain tops, from melting glaciers to relentless extreme weather events, ecosystems and communities around the globe are being devastated.
“COP26 must be a turning point. We must act now – with ambition and solidarity – to safeguard our future and save humanity.”
While 2021 is not as hot as some recent years because of a “La Nina” weather phenomenon in the Pacific – which has a cooling effect on global temperatures, it still averaged 1.09C above pre-industrial levels.
The seven years since 2015, when countries secured the Paris Agreement to curb temperature rises to 1.5C or well below 2C to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, have been the hottest in records dating back to 1850.
And the UK’s Met Office warned the world’s temperature had an average exceeding 1C above pre-industrial levels for the past two decades, the first time a 20-year period has been at that level since records began.
Professor Stephen Belcher, the Met Office chief scientist, said: “This will focus the minds of delegates at COP26 aspiring to keep global temperature rise to within the limits agreed in Paris.”
Meanwhile, sea levels rose from an average of 2.1mm a year between 1993 and 2000 to 4.4mm a year between 2013 and 2021. This is mostly because of the speed up in the loss of ice from glaciers and ice sheets, the report said.
Professor Jonathan Bamber, director of the Bristol Glaciology Centre, said the report is “shocking and deeply disturbing” but the figures would not surprise climate scientists.
He added: “Sea levels are rising faster now than at any other time in the last two millennia.
“If we continue on our current trajectory, that rise could exceed 6ft by 2100 displacing some 630 million people worldwide. The consequences of that are unimaginable.
“What is required now is profound and comprehensive action by every nation and state to limit further and deeper climate breakdown.” Extreme weather events are the “new norm”, with mounting evidence that some bear the footprint of human-induced climate change.
At the current rate of rise in greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere, temperatures by the end of the century would be far in excess of the Paris goals, the report warned.
Professor Petteri Taalas, WMO’s Secretary-General, said: “COP26 is a make-or-break opportunity to put us back on track.
“It rained – rather than snowed – for the first time on record at the peak of the Greenland ice sheet.
“Canadian glaciers suffered rapid melting. A heatwave in Canada and adjacent parts of the USA pushed temperatures to nearly 50C in a village in British Columbia.
“Death Valley, California reached 54.4C during one of multiple heatwaves in the southwestern USA, whilst many parts of the Mediterranean experienced record temperatures. The exceptional heat was often accompanied by devastating fires.”
Mr Taalas described how months’ worth of rainfall fell in the space of hours in China and parts of Europe saw severe flooding, leading to dozens of casualties and billions in economic losses.
The UK has seen an increase in flooding and higher temperatures in recent years.
UK chief scientist Sir Patrick Vallance said: “Climate change is real and present – the seas are rising, glaciers are melting and floods and wildfires are more frequent.”
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