Climate change impacts are heading into ‘uncharted territory of destruction’, UN chief warns

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Climate impacts are heading into ‘uncharted territories of destruction’, the head of the United Nations (UN) has warned.

The bleak words of the UN’s secretary general António Guterres come as the annual ‘United In Science’ report is released, setting out the scale of the climate crisis.

The report details how greenhouse gas levels – largely carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels – are continuing to rise.

They were higher at the start of this year than before the pandemic, which saw a temporary drop in emissions due to lockdowns around the world.

Coordinated by the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO), the United In Science report compiles the most recent science related to climate change, impacts and responses.

This year’s data reveals that the world is experiencing increasingly high global temperatures and destructive climate-driven floods, droughts and heatwaves.

‘Without ambitious action, the physical and socioeconomic impacts of climate change will be devastating,’ it warns.

The bleak words of the UN’s secretary general António Guterres (pictured) come as the annual ‘United In Science’ report is released that sets out the scale of the climate crisis

According to the Global Carbon Project, global emissions recorded between January and May this year are 1.2 per cent higher than those of the same period in 2019

According to the Global Carbon Project, global emissions recorded between January and May this year are 1.2 per cent higher than those of the same period in 2019

Coordinated by the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO), the United In Science report compiles the most recent science related to climate change, impacts and responses

Coordinated by the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO), the United In Science report compiles the most recent science related to climate change, impacts and responses

WHAT IS THE PARIS AGREEMENT? 

The Paris Agreement, which was first signed in 2015, is an international agreement to control and limit climate change.

It hopes to hold the increase in the global average temperature to below 2°C (3.6ºF) ‘and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C (2.7°F)’.

Other goals include getting global emissions to peak as soon as possible, and to undertake rapid reductions thereafter.

 Source: European Commission

According to the Global Carbon Project, global emissions recorded between January and May this year were 1.2 per cent higher than those of the same period in 2019.

The last seven years have been the warmest on record, but analysis from the Met Office shows there is a 93 per cent chance one of the next five years will exceed all of them.

The report predicts that we could soon see irreversible changes being made to climate systems, like melting of the polar ice sheets.

Heat and humidity levels beyond which outdoor human labour is not possible also cannot be ruled out.

Highly populated cities will face more heatwaves, downpours and coastal flooding, making billions of people vulnerable.

According to the data, there is a huge gap between the pledges countries made under the Paris Agreement to curb global warming and the action they are taking.

Those that signed up in 2015 agreed to try to limit the rise of the average global temperature to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.

In fact, there is a 48 per cent chance the world will reach this threshold in the next five years, as the pledges made last year at COP26 will not be enough.

The last seven years have been the warmest on record, but analysis from the Met Office shows there is a 93 per cent chance one of the next five years will exceed all of them

The last seven years have been the warmest on record, but analysis from the Met Office shows there is a 93 per cent chance one of the next five years will exceed all of them 

Mr Guterres said in a video statement that the report reveals the world is ‘way off track’ with stalling the impacts of climate change.

‘Floods, droughts, heatwaves, extreme storms and wildfires are going from bad to worse, breaking records with ever alarming frequency,’ he warned. 

The Portuguese diplomat referred to the heatwaves that scorched Europe over the summer along with severe droughts in China, Africa and the US.

He said: ‘There is nothing natural about the new scale of these disasters.

‘They are the price of humanity’s fossil fuel addiction.

‘This year’s United In Science report shows climate impacts heading into uncharted territories of destruction, yet each year we double-down on this fossil fuel addiction, even as the symptoms get rapidly worse.

‘The current fossil fuel free-for-all must end now. It is a recipe for permanent climate chaos and suffering.’

Mr Guterres also called for far more finance from rich nations and development banks to help developing countries and vulnerable communities adapt to climate change and disasters.

Desert-like landscapes in areas of the UK that would normally be filled with swathes of greenery after the country experienced record-breaking temperatures of 40°C (104°F) in July

Desert-like landscapes in areas of the UK that would normally be filled with swathes of greenery after the country experienced record-breaking temperatures of 40°C (104°F) in July

Flames rip through tinder-dry woodland in Gironde, in the south of France, when a record-breaking summer of heatwaves and drought turned pine forests into firewood

Flames rip through tinder-dry woodland in Gironde, in the south of France, when a record-breaking summer of heatwaves and drought turned pine forests into firewood

WMO secretary general Professor Petteri Taalas added: ‘Climate science is increasingly able to show that many of the extreme weather events that we are experiencing have become more likely and more intense due to human-induced climate change.

‘We have seen this repeatedly this year, with tragic effect.

‘It is more important than ever that we scale up action on early warning systems to build resilience to current and future climate risks in vulnerable communities.’

The UN is working to make these early warning systems, which reduce risks, losses and deaths, accessible to everyone on Earth within five years. 

Tasneem Essop, executive director of the global Climate Action Network of environmental and social organisations and aid agencies, added: ‘The terrifying picture painted by the United In Science report is already a lived reality for millions of people facing recurring climate disasters.

‘The science is clear, yet the addiction to fossil fuels by greedy corporations and rich countries is resulting in losses and damages for communities who have done the least to cause the current climate crisis.’

She called for an end to the dependence on fossil fuels through a transition to clean economies that is fair and equitable.

The climate advocate also urged leaders to agree new funding for those already hit by the crisis at the forthcoming COP27 climate summit in Egypt.

The report comes as Pakistan suffers from catastrophic flooding over the past few weeks that has killed over a thousand people. Pictured: A flooded area on the outskirts of Sukkur, Pakistan

The report comes as Pakistan suffers from catastrophic flooding over the past few weeks that has killed over a thousand people. Pictured: A flooded area on the outskirts of Sukkur, Pakistan

The Indus River and the city of Mianwali in northern Pakistan before (left) and after (right) flooding last month. There is mounting evidence that the floods are the effects of climate change, as Pakistan also experienced record-breaking heat in April, with temperatures reaching over 40°C

The Indus River and the city of Mianwali in northern Pakistan before (left) and after (right) flooding last month. There is mounting evidence that the floods are the effects of climate change, as Pakistan also experienced record-breaking heat in April, with temperatures reaching over 40°C

The report comes as Pakistan suffers from catastrophic flooding over the past few weeks that has killed over a thousand people.

Mr Guterres made an urgent appeal to the international community to provide $160 million (£136.6 million) in support to help the 33 million people in the country.

The historic deluge, triggered by unusually heavy monsoon rains, has destroyed homes and businesses, infrastructure and crops.

In August this year, the country has received nearly 190% more rain, totalling 390.7 millimetres, than the in 30 years on average.

There is mounting evidence that these are the effects of climate change, as Pakistan also experienced record-breaking heat in April, with temperatures reaching over 40°C.

UNITED IN SCIENCE REPORT: MAIN POINTS 

  • Levels of climate-warming greenhouse gases in the atmosphere continue to rise.
  • Global emissions of carbon dioxide were higher in early 2022 than pre-pandemic levels, after a large but temporary drop in pollution due to lockdowns around the world.
  • Greenhouse gases are driving rising temperatures, with the last seven years the warmest on record.
  • There is a 48 per cent chance annual average global temperatures will be 1.5°C higher than in pre-industrial times in the next five years – temporarily exceeding the more stringent of two thresholds for curbing temperatures under the Paris Agreement.
  • There is a 93 per cent chance one of the next five years, 2022 to 2026, will be the hottest on record, analysis from the UK’s Met Office shows.
  • Pledges by countries to curb greenhouse gas emissions made last year will not keep global warming to the 1.5°C limit; the ambition of those pledges needs to be seven times higher to limit warming to 1.5°C and four times higher to meet the less stringent target of 2°C of warming.
  • Irreversible changes to climate systems, known as ‘tipping points’, such as melting of the polar ice sheets or heat and humidity levels beyond which outdoor human labour is not possible, cannot be ruled out and could have significant consequences on a regional or even global scale.
  • Cities, which are responsible for up to 70 per cent of emissions from human activities, will face increasing impacts of climate change including heatwaves, downpours and coastal flooding, which will combine with the impacts of inequality.
  • Billions of people around the world are highly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, and action to adapt to climate impacts and reduce the risks of disasters are desperately needed.
  • Climate change made extreme heat and floods worse in 2022 but early warning systems can reduce risks, losses and deaths – although much of the world’s population does not have access to such schemes.

 

 

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