COP26: Extreme weather is the new norm as climate crisis pushes world into unchartered territory – new report

Extreme weather, including heatwaves, droughts, floods and wildfires, are the new norm, according to the UN’s World Meteorological Organisation.

Photo: Cameron Strandberg from Rocky Mountain House, Alberta, Canada, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

It said the world was being driven into “unchartered territory” and the COP26 summit, which opened in Glasgow this morning, was a “make or break opportunity” to get back on track.

The WMO’s latest State of the Global Climate report, released today, shows the last seven years have been the hottest seven on record.

It found that global sea levels rose to a new high in 2021. There was rain instead of snow for the first time on the peak of the Greenland ice sheet. A heatwave in Canada pushed temperatures to nearly 50C. There were floods in parts of Europe and China and a second year of drought in sub-tropical South America

Launching the report, the WMO said:

“Record atmospheric greenhouse gas concentration and accumulated heat has pushed the planet into uncharged territory with far-reaching repercussions for current and future generations.”

The WMO’s secretary general, Professor Petteri Taalas, said:

“Extreme events are the new norm. There is mounting scientific evidence that some of these bear the footprint of human-induced climate change.”

The UN secretary general, António Guterres, said:

“The report draws from the latest scientific evidence to show how our planet is changing before our eyes.

“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 for people and planet,”

“Scientists are clear on the facts,” he said. “Now leaders need to be just as clear in their actions. The door is open; the solutions are there. We must act now, with ambition and solidarity, to safeguard our future and save humanity.”

WMO news conference, 31 October 2021. Photo: DrillOrDrop

Asked at a news conference if the target of net zero emissions by 2050 was enough, Professor Taalas said:

“It is the best we can dream of. It a very ambitious goal but there are scientific reasons to work for that.”

He said he was optimistic that countries were moving in the right direction. But he said pressure must continue to be put on countries to cut their emissions.

“At the current rate of increase in greenhouse gas concentrations, we will see a temperature increase by the end of this century far in excess of the Paris Agreement targets of 1.5 to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. COP26 is a make-or-break opportunity to put us back on track.”

Today’s report uses data from the first nine months of 2021.

It provides a snapshot of climate indicators, such as greenhouse gas concentrations, temperatures, extreme weather, sea level, ocean warming and ocean acidification, glacier retreat and ice melt, as well as socio-economic impacts.

It is one of the main scientific reports which will inform negotiations at COP26.

Key findings

Greenhouse gases: New highs of greenhouse gas concentrations in 2020, with increases continuing into 2021. Levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) were 413.2 parts per million (ppm), methane (CH4) at 1889 parts per billion (ppb)) and nitrous oxide (N2O) at 333.2 ppb, respectively, 149%, 262% and 123% of pre-industrial (1750) levels.

Temperatures: The global mean temperature for 2021 (based on data from January to September) was about 1.09°C above the 1850-1900 average. There was a temporary cooling “La Niña” event early in the year which meant that 2021 was expected to be the fifth to seventh warmest year on record. But this did not negate or reverse the long-term trend of rising temperatures, the report said.

Ocean: The upper 2000m depth of the ocean continued to warm in 2019 reaching a new record high. Preliminary data analysis suggests that 2020 exceeded that record.

Sea level: Mean global mean sea level rise was 2.1mm per year between 1993 and 2002 and 4.4 mm per year between 2013 and 2021. The increase was mostly because of accelerated loss of ice mass from glaciers and ice sheets.

Sea Ice: Arctic sea ice was below the 1981-2010 average at its maximum in March 2021. Sea-ice extent then decreased rapidly in June and early July in the Laptev Sea and East Greenland Sea regions. As a result, the Arctic-wide sea-ice extent was record low in the first half of July.

Glaciers and ice sheets: Mass loss from North American glaciers accelerated over the last two decades, nearly doubling for the period 2015-2019 compared to 2000-2004. The Greenland Ice Sheet melt extent was close to the long-term average through the early summer. But temperatures and meltwater runoff were well above normal in August 2021 as a result of a major incursion of warm, humid air in mid-August.

Extreme weather: The report detailed exceptional summer heatwaves in western North America, south west USA and the Mediterranean region. Abnormally cold conditions affect the central US and northern Mexico in mid February 2021.

Precipitation: Extreme rain affected China, western Germany and eastern Belgium in July 2021. Flooding also affected northern South America and parts of East Africa. Significant droughts affected much of subtropical South America for the second successive year and rainfall was below average across much of southern Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay and northern Argentina. Droughts also affected south west USA, Canada and Madagascar.

Impacts: Extreme weather events have led to a rise in hunger and undermined decades of progress towards improved food security, the report said.

DrillOrDrop’s reporting from COP26 has been made possible by individual donations from readers

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