Time is fast running out to tackle the climate crisis, a United Nations report has warned, with the COVID-19 pandemic having failed to put the brakes on “relentless” climate change.
In a “double blow” to millions hit by the extreme climate events, lockdown restrictions linked to the global coronavirus pandemic also delayed crucial assistance in some regions, said the report by the UN’s World Meteorological Organization (WMO).
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The UN stressed that the year 2021 must be the year of action for protecting people against the “disastrous” effects of climate change.
The call comes ahead of US President Joe Biden’s climate summit on Thursday and Friday.
Forty world leaders have been invited to attend Biden’s virtual talks aimed at galvanising efforts by the major economies to tackle the climate crisis.
“We are on the verge of the abyss,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told a press conference as he unveiled the State of the Global Climate 2020 report by the WMO on Monday.
“This is truly a pivotal year for humanity’s future. And this report shows we have no time to waste, climate disruption is here,” Guterres said, as he urged countries to “end our war on nature”.
The report described 2020 as one of the hottest years on record, about 1.2 degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial period, ranking it somewhere in the top three hottest years alongside 2016 and 2019, despite cooling La Niña conditions.
Concentrations of the major greenhouse gases – carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide – continued to increase, the report said, despite the temporary reduction in emissions in 2020 related to the COVID-19 pandemic, which shredded economies.
Among the indicators highlighted were record low Arctic sea-ice extents in two months of 2020. About 80 percent of the ocean experienced at least one marine heatwave last year.
“This is the year for action. Countries need to commit to net zero emissions by 2050,” the UN chief said. “They need to act now to protect people against the disastrous effects of climate change.”
Statistics showed that 2020 was one of the three warmest years on record. The past six years, including 2020, have been the six warmest on record.
Temperatures reached 38 Celsius at Verkhoyansk in Russia on June 20, the highest recorded temperature north of the Arctic Circle.
Last year featured “extreme weather and climate disruption, fuelled by anthropogenic climate change, affecting lives, destroying livelihoods and forcing many millions from their homes,” Guterres said.
The report said sea level rise was accelerating, while ocean heat storage and acidification is increasing, diminishing the ocean’s capacity to moderate climate change.
Extreme heatwaves, severe droughts and wildfires also led to tens of billions of dollars in economic losses and many deaths.
During 2020, the unprecedented number of 30 named Atlantic storms led to at least 400 fatalities and cost $41bn in damages.
Some 9.8 million displacements, largely due to hydrometeorological hazards and disasters – such as floods, droughts, hurricanes, and landslides – were recorded during the first half of 2020.
“This year is pivotal. At the United Nations climate conference, COP26, in November, we need to demonstrate that we are taking and planning bold action on mitigation and adaptation,” said Guterres.
But the 71-year-old UN chief stressed that reaching bold emissions reduction targets would mean “radical changes” in financing as well as prioritising efforts to help emerging regions like Africa and South Asia.