‘Time is running out’ as four climate records broken in 2021, WMO warns

18 May 2022

Image: © piyaset/Stock.adobe.com

UN secretary-general António Guterres said the world needs to act this decade to prevent the worst impacts of the climate crisis.

Records were broken in four key climate indicators last year, a “clear sign” of the impact human activity is having on the climate emergency, according to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO).

The WMO’s new climate report published today (18 May) said that greenhouse gas concentrations, sea level rise, ocean heat and ocean acidification all hit new records in 2021.

It added that human activity is leading to harmful and long-lasting ramifications for sustainable development and ecosystems.

The organisation also noted that extreme weather has caused hundreds of billions of dollars in economic losses, created a heavy toll on human lives and triggered shocks for food and water security and displacement.

In response to the report, UN secretary-general António Guterres said “time is running out” and we can see the “dismal litany of humanity’s failure to tackle climate disruption”.

“Renewables are the only path to real energy security, stable power prices and sustainable employment opportunities,” Guterres added. “If we act together, the renewable energy transformation can be the peace project of the 21st century.”

The WMO report said the past seven years have been the warmest on record, though 2021 received a temporary cooling effect from a La Niña event at the start and end of the year.

WMO secretary-general Prof Petteri Taalas said it is “only a matter of time” before we see the next warmest year on record.

“Our climate is changing before our eyes.” Taalas added. “The heat trapped by human-induced greenhouse gases will warm the planet for many generations to come. Sea level rise, ocean heat and acidification will continue for hundreds of years unless means to remove carbon from the atmosphere are invented.

“Some glaciers have reached the point of no return and this will have long-term repercussions in a world in which more than 2bn people already experience water stress.”

Climate alarm bells

This isn’t the first time recently that the WMO has raised the alarm about the growing dangers of the climate emergency. Last week, the UN organisation said there is roughly a 50pc chance that the global average temperature will be 1.5 degrees Celsius higher than pre-industrial levels at some point in the next five years.

This threshold is considered a tipping point where climate impacts will become increasingly harmful for people globally.

The sixth report by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned in February that some effects of the climate crisis may be irreversible if human activity leads to global heating exceeding 1.5 degrees Celsius. It added that the people and ecosystems least able to cope are being hardest hit.

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Leigh Mc Gowran is a journalist with Silicon Republic