UN weather agency issues ‘red alert’ on climate change after record heat

The World Meteorological Organization warns there is a ‘high probability’ that 2024 will be another record-hot year.

A fire rages in bushland near the West Australian city of Wannaroo, north of Perth during a heatwave [DFES/AP]

The United Nations’ weather agency is sounding a “red alert” about global warming, citing record-breaking increases last year in greenhouse gases, land and water temperatures and the melting of glaciers and sea ice.

The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said in a report released on Tuesday that there is a “high probability” that 2024 will be another record-hot year and warned that the world’s efforts to reverse the trend have been inadequate.

The Geneva-based agency voiced concerns in its State of the Global Climate report that a crucial climate goal is increasingly in jeopardy: limiting planetary warming to no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) from pre-industrial levels.

“Never have we been so close – albeit on a temporary basis at the moment – to the 1.5C lower limit of the Paris Agreement on climate change,” said Celeste Saulo, the agency’s secretary-general. “The WMO community is sounding the red alert to the world.”

The 12-month period from March 2023 to February 2024 pushed beyond that 1.5-degree limit, averaging 1.56C (2.81F) higher, according to the European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service.

It said the calendar year 2023 was just below 1.5C at 1.48C (2.66 F), but a record-breaking start to this year pushed the 12-month average beyond that level.


“Earth’s issuing a distress call,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said. “The latest State of the Global Climate report shows a planet on the brink. Fossil fuel pollution is sending climate chaos off the charts.”

Omar Baddour, WMO’s chief of climate monitoring, said the year after an El Nino event – the cyclical warming of the Pacific Ocean that affects global weather patterns – normally tends to be warmer.

“So we cannot say definitively that 2024 is going to be the warmest year. But what I would say: There is a high probability that 2024 will again break the record of 2023, but let’s wait and see,” he said. “January was the warmest January on record. So the records are still being broken.”

A child stands at the yard of his house as a wildfire burns, in the village of Agios Charalampos, near Athens, on July 18, 2023. - Europe braced for new high temperatures on July 18, 2023, under a relentless heatwave and wildfires that have scorched swathes of the Northern Hemisphere, forcing the evacuation of 1,200 children close to a Greek seaside resort. Health authorities have sounded alarms from North America to Europe and Asia, urging people to stay hydrated and shelter from the burning sun, in a stark reminder of the effects of global warming. (Photo by Aris MESSINIS / AFP)
A child stands in the yard of his house as a wildfire burns in the village of Agios Charalampos, near Athens, Greece on July 18, 2023 [Aris Messenis/AFP]

The latest WMO findings are especially striking when compiled in a single report.

In 2023, over 90 percent of ocean waters experienced heatwave conditions at least once.

Glaciers monitored since 1950 lost the most ice on record. Antarctic sea ice retreated to its lowest level ever.

WMO said the impact of heatwaves, floods, droughts, wildfires and tropical cyclones, exacerbated by climate change, was felt in lives and livelihoods on every continent in 2023.

But the agency also acknowledged “a glimmer of hope” in trying to keep the Earth from running too high a fever.

It said renewable energy generation capacity from wind, solar, and water power rose nearly 50 percent from 2022 to 510 gigawatts.

The report comes as climate experts and government ministers are to gather in the Danish capital, Copenhagen, on Thursday and Friday to press for greater climate action, including increased national commitments to fight global warming.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies