Sea levels rose at a record pace last year, vast ocean stretches continued to become acidic, posing a threat to marine biodiversity, and most monitored glaciers are retreating, the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) said Thursday, highlighting how the world was regressing on key climate indicators.
WMO’s Statement on the State of the Global Climate, which was released by UN secretary general Antonio Guterres in New York on the sidelines of a high-level meeting on climate and sustainable development, should trigger alarm about the worsening impact of climate change across the world. The record sea level increase, ocean acidification and very high land and ocean temperatures over the last four years is linked to rising anthropogenic carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.
The CO2 levels, which were at 357 parts per million (PPM) when the statement was first published in 1994, kept rising to reach 405.5 PPM in 2017. For 2018 and 2019, greenhouse gas concentrations are expected to increase even further, WMO said.
WMO also underlined the extreme weather events experienced all over the world in 2018, including the severe flooding in Kerala in August 2018, which led to economic losses estimated at $4.3 billion. Rainfall in Kerala in August was 96% above the long-term average. Weekly totals for the 9-15 and 16-22 August periods were 258% and 218% above average, respectively.
“At Nilambar, 400 mm fell on 9 August, and 620 mm in two days at Peermade on August 15-16, according to reports from the National Disaster Management Authority; more than 1.4 million people were accommodated in relief camps and more than 5.4 million were affected in some way,” the statement said.
A cold wave also affected parts of India, with 135 deaths between January 3 and 13 attributed to cold in Uttar Pradesh. According to data collated from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 2018 was ranked among the top 10 warmest years in Africa, Asia, Europe, Oceania and South America.
Globally, several key climate indicators like sea level rise and glacier loss painted a stark picture of dangerous climate change impact. Sea-surface waters in a number of oceans were unusually warm in 2018, including much of the Pacific. The greatest rates of ocean warming were seen in the southern ocean, with warming reaching the deepest layers. In November 2017, a marine heat wave developed in the Tasman Sea that persisted until February 2018. Sea-surface temperatures in the Tasman Sea exceeded 2 °C above normal, setting a record.
As ocean acidification rises, marine biodiversity is at a major risk. “Since the middle of the last century, there has been an estimated 1%-2% decrease in the global ocean oxygen inventory…many hundreds of sites are known to have experienced oxygen concentrations that impair biological processes or are lethal for many organisms. Regions with historically low oxygen concentrations are expanding, and new regions are now exhibiting low oxygen conditions,” the statement said.
The global mean sea level for 2018 was around 3.7 mm higher than in 2017 and the highest on record. Rapid ice mass loss from ice sheets is the main cause of the global mean sea-level rise.
Arctic sea-ice extent was significantly below average throughout 2018 and was at record low levels for the first two months of the year. The statement referred to monitoring of glacier mass-balance (glaciers losing more mass than they receive will be in negative mass balance and will recede) by the World Glacier Monitoring Service for 19 mountain regions. Preliminary results for 2018 indicate that 2017-18 was the 31st consecutive year of negative mass balance for the glaciers monitored.
Although weak La Niña conditions were noticed at the beginning of 2018, the effect on precipitation was the opposite of what had been expected. For example, several floods occurred in California, an unexpected event during La Niña.The Indian monsoon brought less rainfall than normal to the Western Ghats and the eastern parts of the Himalayas, but higher than normal precipitation in the Western Himalayas. The all-India rainfall for June to September 2018 was around 9% below the long-term average.
“The data released in this report give cause for great concern. The past four years were the warmest on record, with the global average surface temperature in 2018 approximately 1°C above the pre-industrial baseline,” wrote Guterres.
Experts said the WMO statement makes it evident that meeting the Paris Agreement target of keeping the global temperature increase well below 2 degree Celsius above pre-industrial levels is absolutely required.
“A German climate risk index puts India among top 20 countries in terms of vulnerability to climate change. The problem is the nationally determined contributions (NDCs) under the Paris Agreement of 2015 have only qualitative targets. It doesn’t have quantitative targets on reducing vulnerability of countries and improving their capabilities to adapt to climate change. NDCs are quite vague on that,” said Prof NH Ravindranath of the Indian Institute of Science (IISc).
He added: “Quantifying loss and damage is crucial but still a technical challenge. But it’s important to address losses due to climate change so that compensation can be sought. It’s good that WMO report has revealed the severity of climate impacts. There are many Kerala like climate disasters happening in other parts of the country impacting the poor.”
Harjeet Singh, global lead on climate change at NGO Action Aid,said: “The WMO report paints a grim picture of rising climate impacts around the world. It is yet another reminder that narrow-minded politics and current economic model are failing people and the planet. While it is evident that no nation is immune to climate change, it is the poor who pay the cost of the inaction.”
He added: “Schoolchildren and young people across the globe have begun to shake up the conscience of the political leaders who continue to bury their heads in the sand. Rich countries must lead the transition to a greener economy and assist developing countries to follow suit. Poor people and countries need urgent support in tackling climate impacts that are forcing millions out of their homes.”