WMO Reports on 2019’s High-Impact Climate Events
UN Photo/Mark Garten
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The report highlights the physical indicators of climate change, such as increasing land and ocean heat, ocean acidification and deoxygenation, accelerating sea level rise and melting ice.

A recent decadal forecast from the UK's Met Office indicates a new annual global temperature record is likely in the next five years.

This past year, 2019, was the second warmest year on record and ended with a global average temperature increase of 1.1°C above pre-industrial levels.

The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) launched its annual Statement on the State of the Global Climate during a press conference with UN Secretary-General António Guterres and WMO Secretary General Petteri Taalas in New York, US. Presenting the report’s highlights at UN Headquarters on 10 March 2020, Taalas said that: 2019 was the second warmest year on record and ended with a global average temperature increase of 1.1°C above pre-industrial levels; 2010-2019 was the warmest decade on record; and CO2 levels had reached a new peak in January and February 2020.

The report highlights the physical indicators of climate change, such as increasing land and ocean heat, ocean acidification and deoxygenation, accelerating sea level rise and melting ice. It also addresses the impacts of weather and climate events on socio-economic development, human health, migration and displacement, food security, and land and marine ecosystems. It includes input from national meteorological and hydrological services, international experts, scientific institutions and UN agencies, and provides information for policymakers to consider in their decision-making processes.

In his presentation, Taalas said that a recent decadal forecast from the UK’s Met Office indicates a new annual global temperature record is likely in the next five years, and, over 10 years, temperature estimates range from 1.1 to 1.65°C, exceeding the lower limit of the Paris Agreement. Taalas said that while developed countries have been able to decouple economic growth from emissions growth, developing countries have not yet done so. 

Taalas highlighted that smoke and pollutants from the Australian wildfires reverberated across the globe, causing an increase in CO2 emissions, and record temperatures in Antarctica were accompanied by ice melt and the fracturing of a glacier with significant impacts on sea level rise. He warned of a growing water crisis in parts of Africa and in Southern Asia, many areas of which depend on glaciers as the main freshwater source.

Other examples of socioeconomic impacts highlighted in the report include a deteriorating food security situation in some countries in 2019 due to climate extremes, displacement, conflict, and violence. By late 2019, about 22.2 million people in the Horn of Africa were estimated to be severely food insecure. In addition, unusually heavy precipitation in late 2019 contributed to a locust outbreak in the Horn of Africa, the worst in over 25 years.

The report also addresses high-impact events, including:

  • floods in Southern Asia, Iran, the US, which experienced US$20 billion in losses, and South America, with losses in Argentina and Uruguay estimated at US$2.5 billion;
  • drought, with Australia having its driest year on record;
  • heatwaves, with record-breaking temperatures in Australia and Europe;
  • tropical cyclones in the Bahamas and along the eastern coast of Africa, increasing food insecurity and displacement; and
  • increased wildfire activity in high-latitude areas, such as Siberia and Alaska and even in parts of the Arctic, where such events were previously rare.

Responding to questions regarding the impacts of the coronavirus on climate change, its short-term contribution to decreased emissions, and its potential to drain resources and political will from climate efforts, Guterres said he expects the impacts of and efforts related to coronavirus to be temporary and underscored the need to ensure that efforts to fight the virus do not distract from addressing climate change. Taalas added that while the virus is negatively impacting the economy in the short term, the economic consequences of non-action on climate change over the long term would be massive. [WMO News Story on Press Briefing] [WMO Press Release on Statement] [UN News Story] [Webcast of Press Briefing] [Publication Landing Page] [Publication: WMO Statement on the State of the Global Climate 2019]

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