Climate crisis: past eight years were the eight hottest ever, says UN

Report at Cop27 shows the world is now deep into the climate emergency, with the 1.5C heating limit ‘barely within reach’

The past eight years were the eight hottest ever recorded, a new UN report has found, indicating the world is now deep into the climate crisis. The internationally agreed 1.5C limit for global heating is now “barely within reach”, it said.

The report, by the UN’s World Meteorological Organization (WMO), sets out how record high greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are driving sea level and ice melting to new highs and supercharging extreme weather from Pakistan to Puerto Rico.

The stark assessment was published on the opening day of the UN’s Cop27 climate summit in Egypt and as the UN secretary-general warned that “our planet is on course to reach tipping points that will make climate chaos irreversible”.

The WMO estimates that the global average temperature in 2022 will be about 1.15C above the pre-industrial average (1850-1900), meaning every year since 2016 has been one of the warmest on record.

For the past two years, the natural La Niña climate phenomenon has actually kept global temperatures lower than they would otherwise have been. The inevitable switch back to El Niño conditions will see temperatures surge even higher in future, on top of global heating.

The WMO report said:

•Carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide are at record levels in the atmosphere as emissions continue. The annual increase in methane, a potent greenhouse gas, was the highest on record.

•The sea level is now rising twice as fast as 30 years ago and the oceans are hotter than ever.

•Records for glacier melting in the Alps were shattered in 2022, with an average of 13ft (4 metres) in height lost.

•Rain – not snow – was recorded on the 3,200m-high summit of the Greenland ice sheet for the first time.

•The Antarctic sea-ice area fell to its lowest level on record, almost 1m km2 below the long-term average.

“The greater the warming, the worse the impacts,” said the WMO secretary-general, Prof Petteri Taalas. “We have such levels of CO2 in the atmosphere now that the lower 1.5C [target] of the Paris Agreement is barely within reach. It’s already too late for many glaciers [and] sea level rise is a long-term and major threat to many millions of coastal dwellers and low-lying states.”

António Guterres, UN secretary-general, said ahead of Cop27: “Emissions are still growing at record levels. That means our planet is on course for reaching tipping points that will make climate chaos irreversible. We need to move from tipping points to turning points for hope.”

A series of recent reports signalled how near the planet is to climate catastrophe, with “no credible pathway to 1.5C in place” and the current level of action set to see no fall in emissions and global temperature rise by a devastating 2.5C.

Rising global heating is making extreme weather more severe and more frequent around the world. The WMO report highlighted the drought in east Africa, where rainfall has been below average for four consecutive seasons, the longest in 40 years. About 19 million people are now suffering a food crisis.

The WMO analysis also reported:

•Devastating flooding in Pakistan, with at least 1,700 deaths and 7.9 million people displaced.

•A series of cyclones that battered southern Africa, which hit Madagascar hardest with torrential rain.

•Exceptional heatwaves and droughts in the northern hemisphere, with China enduring its longest heatwave on record, the UK passing 40C for the first time, and European rivers including the Rhine, Loire and Danube falling to critically low levels.

•Hurricane Ian wreaking extensive damage and loss of life in Cuba and Florida.

“All too often, those least responsible for climate change suffer most, but even well-prepared societies this year have been ravaged by extremes,” said Prof Taalas.

Prof Mike Meredith, at the British Antarctic Survey, said: “The messages in this report could barely be bleaker – all over our planet, records are being shattered as different parts of the climate system begin to break down. The loss of ice is especially alarming as the impacts on people, societies and economies are huge. If this doesn’t focus the minds of the global leaders at Cop27, I don’t know what will.”

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