ISLAMABAD: The world’s glaciers melted at dramatic speed last year and saving them is effectively a lost cause, a UN agency said in a report on Friday, noting that record levels of greenhouse gases have caused “planetary scale changes on land, in the ocean and in the atmosphere”.

The last eight years have been the warmest ever recorded, while concentrations of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide hit new peaks, the World Meteorological Organisation said.

“Antarctic sea ice fell to its lowest extent on record and the melting of some European glaciers was, literally, off the charts,” the WMO spelled out as it launched its annual climate overview.

The ‘State of the Global Climate 2022’ report said that sea levels are also at a record high, having risen by an average of 4.62 millimetres per year between 2013 and 2022 — double the rate it was between 1993 and 2002.

Sea levels at record high, greenhouse gases in atmosphere hit new peaks, World Meteorological Organisation warns

Record high temperatures were recorded in the oceans — where around 90 per cent of the heat trapped on Earth by greenhouse gases ends up.

Rising global temperatures and rapidly melting glaciers are also bad news for Pakistan. The country is home to more than 7,000 glaciers, more than anywhere outside the poles.

Record monsoon rains and melting glaciers last September displaced millions of people and killed at least 1,700 in a catastrophe blamed on climate change.

“While greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise and the climate continues to change, populations worldwide continue to be gravely impacted by extreme weather and climate events,” WMO chief Petteri Taalas said.

“For example, in 2022, continuous drought in East Africa, record-breaking rainfall in Pakistan and record-breaking heatwaves in China and Europe affected tens of millions, drove food insecurity, boosted mass migration, and cost billions of dollars in loss and damage,” he said.

The new WMO report is accompanied by a story map, which provides information for policymakers on how the climate change indicators are playing out, and which also shows how improved technology makes the transition to renewable energy cheaper and more accessible than ever.

Throughout the year, hazardous climate and weather-related events drove new population displacement and worsened conditions for many of the 95 million people already living in displacement at the beginning of the year, according to the report.

The report also puts a spotlight on ecosystems and the environment and shows how climate change is affecting recurring events in nature, such as when trees blossom, or birds migrate.

Concentrations of the three main greenhouse gases — carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide — reached record observed highs in 2021, the latest year for which consolidated global values are available (1984-2021).

The annual increase in methane concentration from 2020 to 2021 was the highest on record. Real-time data from specific locations show levels of the three greenhouse gases continued to increase in 2022.

Reference glaciers for which we have long-term observations experienced an average thickness change of over -1.3 metres between October 2021 and October 2022. This loss is much larger than the average of the last decade.

Six of the ten most negative mass balance years on record (1950-2022) occurred since 2015. The cumulative thickness loss since 1970 amounts to almost 30 metres.

Measurements on glaciers in High Mountain Asia, western North America, South America and parts of the Arctic also reveal substantial glacier mass losses. There were some mass gains in Iceland and Northern Norway associated with higher-than-average precipitation and a relatively cool summer.

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), globally the glaciers lost more than 6,000 gigatonnes of ice over the period 1993-2019. This represents an equivalent water volume of 75 lakes the size of Lac Leman (also known as Lake Geneva), the largest lake in Western Europe. The Greenland Ice Sheet ended with a negative total mass balance for the 26th year in a row.

As of 2021, 2.3 billion people faced food insecurity, of which 924m people faced severe food insecurity. Projections estimated 767.9m people facing undernourishment in 2021, 9.8pc of the global population. Half of these are in Asia and one-third are in Africa.

Heatwaves in the 2022 pre-monsoon season in India and Pakistan caused a decline in crop yields. This, combined with the banning of wheat exports and restrictions on rice exports in India after the start of the conflict in Ukraine, threatened the availability, access, and stability of staple foods within international food markets and posed high risks to countries already affected by shortages of staple foods.

Published in Dawn, April 22nd, 2023

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