As COP25, the United Nation’s climate conference, kicks off in Madrid this week, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) has released a provisional statement of its annual State of the Climate Report 2019. It reveals that the last decade has been truly record-breaking in many ways.
2019 concludes a decade of unprecedented record temperatures, retreating ice cover, atmospheric pollution, and high-impact weather driven by human activities, the report notes. Not only is the last decade set to be the warmest on record, but in its last year, the global average temperature was 1.1°C above pre-industrial levels, perilously close to the 1.5°C limit scientists have warned we need to aim for to avoid catastrophic change.
The trends are clear. Since the 1980s, each decade has been consecutively warmer than the previous. The hottest five years on record all occurred in the last five years, with 2019 tipped to be the second or third hottest year ever recorded.
2018 saw carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere reach a new record high – 407 parts per million, 147 percent higher than pre-industrial levels. Methane and nitrous oxide also reached record highs in 2018, 259 percent and 123 percent respectively of pre-industrial levels. Preliminary data suggests CO2 levels continued to increase in 2019.
In 2015, at the historic 23rd Conference of the Parties (COP23), otherwise known as the Paris Agreement, the world agreed to limit the global average temperature rise to below 2°C. In 2018, the UN’s IPCC report urged the world to bring that forward to 1.5°C. The 2019 State of the Global Climate Report will be published in March 2020, but the provisional findings have been released now as two weeks of climate talks commence at the 25th Conference of the Parties in Spain. The findings provide vital information that complements the IPCC report and focus attention on urgent action needed.
“If we do not take urgent climate action now, then we are heading for a temperature increase of more than 3°C by the end of the century, with ever more harmful impacts on human wellbeing,” said WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas in a statement. “We are nowhere near on track to meet the Paris Agreement target.”
Other aspects the report highlighted included rising ocean temperatures, ocean acidification, and sea-level rise due to 2019's record-breaking low ice extent in both the Arctic and Antarctica, with particular focus on the accelerated rate of the melting Greenland Ice Sheet. The rise of high-impact “once in a century” weather events becoming regular occurrences is also of major concern. Floods, drought, heatwaves, storms, and wildfires have dominated headlines this year. These extreme conditions have taken their toll on human health, food security, migration, ecosystems, and marine and wildlife populations.
"As representatives of the world's nations gather in Madrid, the WMO statement serves as a timely reminder of what it is at stake: human lives, a stable climate, all the other species at which we marvel, in short, everything we know and love, is at risk from climate change," Fiona Armstrong, founder and executive director of the Climate and Health Alliance, who was not involved in the report, commented.