Melting glaciers and rapidly rising seas in eight warmest years on record – WMO

The past eight years are on track to be the hottest on record, bringing ever more dramatic and deadly effects of climate change, the UN has said.

Sea level rise is accelerating, the melting of European alpine glaciers has broken records and devastating floods, droughts and heat waves will hit in 2022, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) has said.

As the latest international climate talks, Cop27, kick off in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, the UN weather and climate body has released its annual report on the state of the world’s climate with another warning that the goal of limiting the rise in temperatures to 1.5°C was “barely within reach”.

Countries agreed as part of the Paris climate treaty in 2015 to limit warming to “well below” 2C and continue efforts to limit it to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, but a lack of action has led to warnings that the 1.5C target is slipping away.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called the latest report a ‘chronicle of climate chaos’ and called on governments at COP27 to respond to the planet’s ‘signal of distress’ with ambitious and credible climate action. .

The global average temperature in 2022 is estimated to be around 1.15C above levels observed during the period 1850-1900, the WMO said.

That puts 2022 on track to be the fifth or sixth warmest year on record, in the face of a rare triple-dip La Nina weather phenomenon in the Pacific that has naturally cooled global temperatures for the past two years.

But the WMO warned that this did not mean there was a reversal in the warming trend.

The eight years since 2015 are likely to be the warmest eight years on record, and the impacts of global warming are becoming more pronounced.

Glacier melt records have been broken in the European Alps, with an average loss of three to four meters in ice thickness across the mountain range – far more than the previous record year of 2003.

In Switzerland, 6% of the frozen ice volume was lost between 2021 and 2022 and for the first time in history no snow lasted the summer, so there was no ice accumulation fresh.

Between 2001 and 2022, glacier ice in Switzerland has shrunk by more than a third.

The report says a light snowpack at the end of winter and repeated blankets of Saharan dust – which darken the surface and encourage more melting – set the stage for unprecedented ice loss between May and September. this year following the heat waves that hit Europe. .

The rate at which sea levels are rising has doubled since 1993, with an acceleration due to increased ice melt, according to the WMO report.

Since January 2020 alone, sea levels have risen nearly 10 mm (0.4 inches) to reach a new record high this year.

Ocean heat reached record levels in 2021, the last year assessed, while this year Arctic sea ice extent was below the long-term average for most of the year, and the Antarctic sea ice fell to its lowest level on record in February.

Below-average rainfall over the past four years in East Africa has fueled drought and a food crisis in the region, record rains have caused devastating floods in Pakistan – and China and Europe, including including the UK, have been hit by record heat waves and devastating droughts and fires.

And there has been no release of the greenhouse gases that cause climate change, with the three main pollutants, carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide reaching record levels in 2021 and monitoring shows they have continued to rise in 2022, the WMO said.

WMO Secretary General Petteri Taalas said: “The greater the warming, the more severe the impacts.

“We have such high levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere now that the 1.5°C drop from the Paris Agreement is barely within reach.”

He warned that it was “already too late for many glaciers” and that the melting would continue for hundreds, if not thousands of years, with major implications for water security.

Sea level rise would amount to up to half a meter over a century, posing a major, long-term threat to many millions of coastal and low-lying states’ inhabitants.

And he added that while all too often it is those least responsible for climate change who suffer the most, even “well-prepared societies this year have been ravaged by extremes”.

Responding to the report, Mr Guterres said: “We must respond to the planet’s distress signal with action – ambitious and credible climate action. COP27 must be the place – and now must be the time. »

Leading climatologist Professor Sir Brian Hoskins, president of the Grantham Institute at Imperial College London, said the report showed: ‘A year of punishing heatwaves, droughts and floods in many parts of the world , and a record of heat stored in the climate system.

“The record rise in atmospheric methane, a potent greenhouse gas, and accelerating sea level rise are of particular concern. One detail sums it all up: Switzerland has lost more than a third of its glacier volume since 2001.

“How many more warnings do they need before the countries of the world move from rhetoric and promises to real action?”

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