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::EXCLUSIVE:: Meeting the global climate challenges in 2021 and beyond


2020 was one of the three warmest years on record. The past six years, including 2020, have been the six warmest years on record. Temperatures reached 38.0 °C at Verkhoyansk, Russian Federation on 20 June, the highest recorded temperature anywhere north of the Arctic Circle, says WMO report.

By Salam Rajesh

The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) recently brought out its State of the Global Climate 2020 report (published 2021) wherein climate extremities that the world encountered in these past few years are highlighted for people to imagine the setting that may hit the global population in the next few decades unless priorities on mitigation and adaptation are taken up post haste today.

The report opens with the grim note that the warmest year on record to date, 2016, began with an exceptionally strong El Niño, a phenomenon which contributes to elevated global temperatures. The report outlines that ‘Despite neutral or comparatively weak El Niño conditions early in 2020 and La Niña conditions developing by late September, the warmth of 2020 was comparable to that of 2016. With 2020 being one of the three warmest years on record, the past six years, 2015 to 2020, were the six warmest on record. The last five-year (2016 to 2020) and 10-year (2011 to 2020) averages were also the warmest on record’.

The report re-emphasizes that assessing the increase in global temperature in the context of climate change refers to the long term global average temperature, not to the averages for individual years or months.

P Taalas, WMO’s Secretary General, has this to comment on the report, “Concentrations of the major greenhouse gases continued to increase in 2019 and 2020. Globally averaged mole fractions of carbon dioxide (CO2) have already exceeded 410 parts per million (ppm), and if the CO2 concentration follows the same pattern as in previous years, it could reach or exceed 414 ppm in 2021”.

A Guterres, UN’s Secretary General chips in, “2020 was an unprecedented year for people and planet: a global pandemic on a scale not seen for more than a century; global temperatures higher than in a millennium; and the highest concentration of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere for over 3 million years”. These statements fundamentally do not give a bright picture of things to come in this decade and the next.

Different settings at the UN context has gripped the world’s attention on how to deal with the existing climate emergencies, much of which are already impacting continents and posing problems for the world at large. The Arctic ice melts is at the core of the deliberations, wherein its impacts are being felt down south with evident sea level rise and countries already reeling under unprecedented submergence of coastlines and inducement of desertification due to increased level of salinity as sea water gradually seeps inland.

From raging wildfires and glacial lake outburst floods due to increased temperature rise, drying up of water sources inducing drought situations and threats to food and water security, the world faces extremities that many predict might go out of hand unless stringent measures are taken up in time.

The WMO report features few highlights that sum up the issues in a nutshell. It begins by stating that, ‘Concentrations of the major greenhouse gases, CO2, CH4, and N2O, continued to increase despite the temporary reduction in emissions in 2020 related to measures taken in response to COVID-19’.

It further states that, ‘2020 was one of the three warmest years on record. The past six years, including 2020, have been the six warmest years on record. Temperatures reached 38.0 °C at Verkhoyansk, Russian Federation on 20 June, the highest recorded temperature anywhere north of the Arctic Circle’.

Touching on the issue of sea-level rise, the report outlines that, ‘The trend in sea-level rise is accelerating. In addition, ocean heat storage and acidification are increasing, diminishing the ocean’s capacity to moderate climate change. The Arctic minimum sea-ice extent in September 2020 was the second lowest on record. The sea-ice retreat in the Laptev Sea was the earliest observed in the satellite era. The Antarctic mass loss trend accelerated around 2005, and currently, Antarctica loses approximately 175 to 225 Gt of ice per year’.

More ominous notes in the report wherein it states that, ‘The 2020 North Atlantic hurricane season was exceptionally active. Hurricanes, extreme heat waves, severe droughts and wildfires led to tens of billions of US dollars in economic losses and many deaths. Some 9.8 million displacements, largely due to hydro-meteorological hazards and disasters, were recorded during the first half of 2020. Disruptions to the agriculture sector by COVID-19 exacerbated weather impacts along the entire food supply chain, elevating levels of food insecurity’.

These extremities are just the tip of the ice berg, literally speaking, even as the world continues to experience new dimensions of climate emergencies including ocean warming which scientists are saying is killing coral life and causing untold damages to life deep down in the oceans. Ocean warming is also being related to the increased frequencies of hydro-meteorological extremities like more instances of cyclonic storms in quick successions, destroying lives and properties across continents.

The WMO report asserts that, ‘Global climate indicators such as global mean surface temperature, global ocean heat content, state of ocean acidification, glacier mass balance, Arctic and Antarctic sea-ice extent, global CO2 mole fraction and global mean sea level reveal the ways in which the climate is changing and provide a broad view of the climate at the global scale. They are used to monitor the key components of the climate system and describe the most relevant changes in the composition of the atmosphere, the heat that arises from the accumulation of greenhouse gases, and the responses of the land, ocean and ice to the changing climate’.

Underscoring the climate extremities that the world faces currently, the report starkly indicates that, ‘The global mean temperature for 2020 was 1.2 ± 0.1 °C above the 1850-1900 baseline, which places 2020 as one of the three warmest years on record globally’. At this scale, with each passing year the world can expect to experience different forms of climate related hazards that may cause large scale displacements of both human and wildlife populations, and demographic imbalances across the continents – perhaps inducing communal tensions and conflicts in its wake.

Hollywood is rife with movies based on climate extremities and science fictions imagining a world in a future time where extreme weather conditions turns the blue planet into mass deserts – more like the Mars landscape. When these fiction movies turn into reality, it would be hard to imagine how humans will fare in a planet where much of its green cover have disappeared and the water sources have almost completely dried up, and where the survivors have to cope in deserts as far as the eye can see, or survive in continents completely covered in ice sheets with extreme cold. Imaginations are vivid, and perhaps may come true unless actions are taken up now.

(The writer is a media professional working on environmental issues. He can be contacted at [email protected])

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