The global average temperature was about 1.2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels despite the cooling effect of La Nina ocean-atmosphere phenomenon in 2020, the World Meteorological Organisation confirmed on Monday in its State of the Global Climate 2020 report. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) had warned that a 1.5 degree C warming will mark a menacing milestone in the warming of the planet.
UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres who released the report on Monday said the UN is building a global coalition to reach net-zero emissions by 2050. “2020 was 1.2 degrees Celsius hotter than pre-industrial times. We are getting dangerously close to the 1.5-degree Celsius limit set by the scientific community. We are on the verge of the abyss. To avert the worst impacts of climate change, science tells us that we must limit global temperature rise to within 1.5 degrees of the pre-industrial baseline. That means reducing global greenhouse gas emissions by 45% from 2010 levels by 2030 and reaching net-zero emissions by 2050. We are way off track. This must be the year for action,” he said adding that all countries should phase out coal by 2040.
Last year was one of the three warmest years on record; the six years since 2015 have been the warmest on record and 2011-2020 was the warmest decade on record, the report highlighted adding that decrease in the annual growth rate of CO2 concentration due to the Covid 19 lockdown will be practically indistinguishable.
Globally averaged carbon dioxide (CO2) concentrations have already exceeded 410 parts per million (ppm), 148% of pre-industrial levels, and if the CO2 concentration follows the same pattern as in previous years, it could reach or exceed 414 ppm in 2021, according to the report.
“Developed countries must lead in phasing out coal — by 2030 in Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries, and 2040 elsewhere. No new coal power plants should be built.” Guterres also called for an agreement among all countries to follow a common direction of travel. “The United Nations is building a global coalition committed to net zero emissions – to cover all countries, cities, regions, businesses and financial institutions. Second, the next 10 years need to be a decade of transformation. Countries need to submit ambitious new NDCs — the nationally determined contributions to the Paris Agreement – which are their climate plans for the next 10 years,” he said.
The report comes ahead of the April 22-23 Virtual Leaders’ Summit on Climate convened by the United States of America. The Summit will have participation from 40 world leaders and one of its aims is “Galvanizing efforts by the world’s major economies to reduce emissions during this critical decade to keep the goal of limiting warming to 1.5 degree Celsius within reach,” according to the US department of state.
United States Special Presidential Envoy for Climate, John Kerry had met Prime Minister Narendra Modi and environment minister Prakash Javadekar earlier this month regarding increasing climate ambition ahead of COP 26 in Glasgow this November. Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs of France, Jean-Yves Le Drian had also met Javadekar and said all countries should be on track to achieve carbon neutrality and start phasing out coal.
Javadekar had said India will not raise its climate ambition at the behest of or under pressure from developed countries. India has the right to develop and its poor have the right to grow and that countries should respect the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities (CBDR). (CBDR, a principle under the Paris Agreement requires richer countries to lead and take historical responsibility for the emissions caused in the past by them.)
According to Climatewatch’s net-zero tracker, 59 countries representing 54% of global emissions have announced net-zero targets. Only 6 parties have legislations on net-zero emissions. India is among 6 countries that are compliant with the Paris Agreement’s 2-degree target including Bhutan, Costa Rica and the Philippines according to Climate Action Tracker. 7 countries are “critically insufficient” and their pledges will lead to 4+degree C warming including the US and the Russian Federation.
Temperatures reached 38.0 degrees C at Verkhoyansk, Russian Federation on June 20, the highest recorded temperature anywhere north of the Arctic Circle. 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. Some 9.8 million people were displaced largely due to hydrometeorological hazards and disasters, and were recorded during the first half of 2020. Annual precipitation totals in monsoon in North America, Africa, South-West Asia and South-East Asia were unusually high in 2020. Monsoon seasonal totals in India were 109% of the long-term mean, the third-highest seasonal total after 1994 and 2019.
“2020 was one of the warmest years despite having a La Niña with cool waters in the east Pacific. La Niñas typically has a cooling effect on global temperatures, but this is now offset by global warming due to greenhouse gas emissions. As a result, La Niña years now are warmer than years with El Niño events of the past,” Roxy Mathew Koll, a climate scientist at the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology (IITM), Pune.
“International agreements on climate change aim to keep global warming within the safe range of 1.5C to 2C, but few people realise that the world’s average temperature is already more than a degree warmer than it was 200 years ago. Parts of the world like the Himalayas are warming even faster. This is a serious concern for India because climate change could have a compounding effect on existing scarcities, stresses and extreme events. For example, in 2020, even as we were fighting the Covid-19 pandemic, we also had to face Cyclone Amphan, which intensified rapidly in a warmer ocean. It is crucial that all countries invest in adaptation to climate impacts, especially to protect those who are most vulnerable to extreme events. At the same time, we need to accelerate policies and technologies to mitigate global greenhouse gas emissions as rapidly as possible,” said Ulka Kelkar, director of climate programme at the World Resources Institute, responding to the WMO report.