UN warns of 'much extreme weather' ahead after hottest decade on record

January 15, 2020

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Pakistan is among the countries which are most vulnerable to climate change.—Reuters/File
Pakistan is among the countries which are most vulnerable to climate change.—Reuters/File

The past decade has been the hottest on record, the United Nations said on Wednesday, warning that the higher temperatures were expected to fuel numerous extreme weather events in 2020 and beyond.

The World Meteorological Organisation —an agency of the UN — which based its findings on analysis of leading international datasets, said increases in global temperatures had already had dire consequences, pointing to “retreating ice, record sea levels, increasing ocean heat and acidification, and extreme weather”.

WMO said its research also confirmed data released by the European Union's climate monitor last week showing that 2019 was the second hottest on record, after 2016.

“The year 2020 has started out where 2019 left off — with high-impact weather and climate-related events,” WMO chief Petteri Taalas said in a statement, pointing in particular to the devastating bush fires that have been raging in Australia for months.

The bush fires, unprecedented in their duration and intensity, have claimed 28 lives and highlighted the type of disasters that scientists say the world will increasingly face due to global warming.

The fires have already destroyed more than 2,000 homes and burnt 10 million hectares (100,000 square kilometres) of land — an area larger than South Korea or Portugal.

“Unfortunately, we expect to see much extreme weather throughout 2020 and the coming decades, fueled by record levels of heat-trapping greenhouse gases in the atmosphere,” Taalas said.

The UN agency said that average global temperatures during both the past five-year (2015-2019) and 10-year (2010-2019) periods were the highest ever recorded.

“Since the 1980s, each decade has been warmer than the previous one,” the UN agency said in a statement, warning that “this trend is expected to continue”.

The United Nations said last year that man-made greenhouse gas emissions needed to tumble 7.6 per cent each year to 2030 in order to limit temperature rises to 1.5 degrees Celsius — the more ambitious cap nations signed up to in the landmark Paris climate deal.

Current pledges to cut emissions put Earth on a path of several degrees warming by the end of the century.

Call for action

Taalas said on Wednesday that since modern records began in 1850, the average global temperature had risen by around 1.1 degrees Celsius, and warned of significant warming in the future.

“On the current path of carbon dioxide emissions, we are heading towards a temperature increase of three to five degrees Celsius by the end of the century,” he warned.

WMO also highlighted a new study published this week in Advances in Atmospheric Sciences with data showing that ocean heat content was at a record high in 2019.

The past five years, and past decade were also the warmest on record in terms of ocean heat content, that study showed.

Since more than 90 per cent of excess heat is stored within the world's oceans, their heat content is a good way to quantify the rate of global warming, WMO said.

Conservationists said the UN agency's findings were to be expected.

“It is no surprise that 2019 was the second hottest year on record — nature has been persistently reminding us that we have to pick up the pace,” said Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, leader of the World Wide Fund's global climate and energy practice, calling for dramatic measures to halt the warming trend.

Scientists also stressed the need for urgent action.

“If we look at all the impacts around the world that are now occurring as a result of this warming, it is obvious that we are not succeeding in preventing dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system,” said Bob Ward of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics and Political Science.