Four major climate change records – greenhouse gas concentrations, sea level rise, ocean heat and ocean acidification – were broken in 2021, according to the latest State of the Global Climate Report†
It is clear that the state of the global climate does not look good. In fact, the new report from the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) is perhaps one of the clearest and most concise accounts of our planet’s problems in some time.
In addition to these four major record breakers, the report highlights the significant increase in extreme weather — including exceptional heatwaves, floods, droughts and hurricanes — that occurred in 2021, resulting in billions of dollars in economic losses, mounting concerns about food and water security and an increasing amount of human suffering.
“Extreme weather has the most direct impact on our daily lives,” said Professor Petteri Taalas, Secretary General of the WMO, in a statement. statement† †Years of investment in disaster preparedness have made us better at saving lives, even though the economic losses are staggering. But much more needs to be done, as we see with the drought in the Horn of Africa, the recent deadly floods in South Africa and the extreme heat in India and Pakistan.”
The WMO report also confirmed that the past seven years have been the warmest seven years on record, with an average global temperature of 2021 about 1.11°C above pre-industrial levels.
“It’s only a matter of time before we see another warmest year on record. Our climate is changing before our eyes,” says Professor Taalas.
Here are some of the key points and takeaways from the report:
Record high greenhouse gas concentrations
Greenhouse gas concentrations have been officially confirmed to have reached a new global high in 2020, with the concentration of carbon dioxide reaching 413.2 parts per million (ppm) worldwide. This figure then continued to rise over the next two years, reaching 420.23 ppm in Apr 2022.
This is the highest concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere in all of human history; the last time global carbon dioxide levels were consistently above 400 ppm was about 4 million years ago, a period when the world was about 3 °C (5.4 °F) hotter and sea levels were much higher than today.
Record ocean acidification
The report says it is likely that open ocean surface pH is now the lowest in at least 26,000 years. A huge amount of human-controlled CO2 in the atmosphere is absorbed by the oceans. The emissions react with seawater, making it more acidic, threatening ecosystems, coastal protection and food security. The drop in ocean pH also shows that the seas increase their ability to absorb CO. losses to record2 from the atmosphere
Record high sea level
Global mean sea levels hit a new record in 2021, with an average rise of 4.5 millimeters per year from 2013 to 2021, doubling the rate between 1993 and 2002. This is bad news for coastal human settlements and aggravating the vulnerability to tropical cyclones.
Record ocean heat
All data suggests that the upper 2,000 meters (6,561 feet) of ocean water has experienced a sharp rise in temperature over the past two decades and is expected to continue to warm in the future. It is also clear that the heat is now penetrating to ever deeper levels than before.
So, where do we go from here?
Independent climate scientists who commented on the report have described it as “terrifying” and “creepy reading,” but also unsurprising given that alarm bells have been ringing for decades. Most importantly, the experts say it highlights the need to dramatically step up our efforts to reduce carbon emissions by immediately ending the use of fossil fuels and reducing deforestation. If not, we can expect the effects of climate change to strike harder, earlier and more frequently.
“The WMO report State of the Global Climate in 2021 is a terrifying warning for human health and well-being. Without urgent action to reduce carbon emissions, millions of people will die in the not-distant future, mainly from hunger and from battles for limited resources, which are becoming more scarce due to climate change,” said Professor Colin Butler of the National Center for Epidemiology and Population Health at the National Center for Epidemiology and Population Health. Australian National University.
“We need to make huge progress towards zero this decade if we are to have even a 50 percent chance of limiting warming to 1.5°C. Net zero in 2050 is too late to prevent a 2°C warming with certainty,” added Professor Pete Strutton of the Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies at the University of Tasmania.