sdg 15 | terrestrial ecosystem life
The World Meteorological Organization publishes 2021 data on greenhouse gases, temperature increases and sea level rise
Rise in sea level, increase in its acidity and temperature and concentration of Greenhouse Gases (GHG). These are four of the main indicators of climate change that have broken a new record in 2021 and that have set off the alarms of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) in its latest report on the state of the global climate. So much so that the Secretary General of the United Nations, António Guterres, described them as “the grim confirmation of the failure of humanity to face climatic upheavals”.
The emblematic work, which complements the one presented by the UN panel of experts known by the acronym of IPCC, compiles in detail the data related to these four global realities and their discouraging levels reached during the past year. Levels that, far from reflecting a change in the trajectory of today’s society to avoid a global warming scenario, confirm that not only is it not improving, but worse parameters than ever are observed again.
The WMO report,
published in full for dissemination and consultation, it begins by highlighting the levels of the main GHGs: carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide. All are above more than 100% of pre-industrial levels. Special mention requires methane, which exceeds 200%. All of these gases, especially the first, have a direct effect on both global temperatures and the health of the oceans.
“The last seven years have been the hottest on record and it is only a matter of time before the record for the hottest year ever recorded is broken again”
On the first factor, the gradual and progressive rise in thermometers, the WMO confirms that “the last seven years have been the warmest on record.” 2021 was just one of them, not the most in absolute terms, due to a temporary drop in temperatures that was recorded by La Niña at the beginning and end of the year.
“However,” the report continues, “this temporary cooling effect did not reverse the general trend of rising temperatures. In 2021, the global average was approximately 1.11 ± 0.13 °C higher than pre-industrial levels. The limit agreed by the scientific community is 1.5º to avoid catastrophic consequences. The margin is already counted in tenths.
This accumulation of gases that causes the Earth to accumulate energy also has direct consequences on the oceans. About 90% of this excess calories ends up in them. Measurements are made down to a depth of 2,000 meters and, according to the WMO, all data sets agree that ocean warming rates show a particularly strong increase in the last two decades and increasingly at deeper levels.
Drought in Madagascar during 2021. /
CO2, especially, has a direct effect on the seas because they are responsible for absorbing part of the annual emissions of this gas, 23%, to be exact. “It fulfills its role in mitigating climate change, but at what cost,” the scientists lament in the aforementioned report.
By this he means that CO2 reacts with seawater and increases its acidity and lowers its pH. This condition endangers organisms and ecosystem services, including food security, by endangering fisheries and aquaculture. However, the ocean progressively loses its ability to absorb CO2 in a vicious and lethal circle.
“90% of the excess energy accumulated on earth by greenhouse gases goes to the ocean, which gains acidity, loses pH, and with it its diversity and its ability to absorb the CO2 emitted into the atmosphere”
The level of the ice cap and its consequences on sea level do not leave indifferent either. The extent of sea ice in the Southern Ocean was below the 1981-2010 average throughout 2021, and in February it reached levels typical of summer melting.
The Arctic experienced its particular heat wave and rain was observed for the first time at the Summit Station, the highest point of the ice sheet. The progressive loss of mass of glaciers is another of the highlights of the report.
However, the global mean sea level reached a new maximum in 2021, after increasing an average of 4.5 mm per year during the period 2013-2021. This figure, which is more than double that registered between 1993 and 2002.
“Our climate is changing before our eyes. Heat trapped in the atmosphere from man-made greenhouse gases will warm the planet for many generations. Sea level rise, ocean acidification, and increased heat content will continue for centuries unless mechanisms are invented to remove carbon from the atmosphere. Some glaciers have reached the point of no return and this will have long-term effects in a world where more than 2 billion people are already suffering from water stress.”
valued the Secretary General of the WMO, Petteri Taalas.
All these indicators have harmful repercussions for the sustainable development of the planet and its ecosystems. The WMO cites extreme weather events, which directly affect people’s lives and cause significant economic losses, in addition to undermining food and water security, as well as aggravating migrations due to climatic reasons. “In 2022 all these consequences have already worsened,” they maintain from the aforementioned organization.
Destroyed building in Germany after the 2021 floods. /
The consequences of these extreme phenomena such as floods or droughts have been quantified economically. Thus, in 2021, the floods caused economic losses valued at 17,700 million dollars in the Chinese province of Henan and, in mid-July, Western Europe suffered some of the most serious floods on record, whose economic losses exceeded, only in Germany, the 20,000 million dollars.
Another clear example of the negative trend that is recorded are the figures of hunger in the world. After a peak of malnutrition in 2020 (768 million people), projections indicated a decrease in world hunger to around 710 million in 2021 (9%). However, as of October 2021, the figures in many countries were already higher than in 2020.
“The forecast was that world hunger would decrease in 2021, but in October of that year the figure already exceeded the previous one, with 768 million people affected”
“We have to do much more – continues Taalas – as evidenced by the emergency situation in the Horn of Africa due to drought, the recent deadly floods in South Africa and the extreme heat recorded in India and Pakistan”.
For the Secretary General of the UN, Atonio Guterres, this action must above all be aimed at changing the energy model, something that he described as easy to achieve and with which the world would thus move away from the “dead end” represented by fossil fuels. .
Guterres proposed five lines of action that include, among others, promoting greater access to renewable energy technologies and supplies, tripling private and public investment in renewable energy, and ending subsidies for fossil fuels, which are granted to a rate of approximately 11 million dollars per minute.
“Renewables are the only path to true energy security, stable electricity prices and sustainable employment opportunities. If we act together, the transformation of renewable energies can be the peace project of the 21st century », he concluded.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.