World Meteorological Organization Sounds Alarm On Climate, But Is Anyone Listening?

This week, in the midst of the global pandemic, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) issued its 2019 annual report assessing a range of so-called global climate indicators such as land temperatures, ocean temperatures, greenhouse gas emissions, sea-level rise and melting ice.  Unfortunately, the planet has a fever and it is rising — the WMO stated that for the most part, these key indicators are getting worse and we are not doing enough to control global warming.

Why This Matters:  Every day that goes by we are losing precious time to both keep our warming under control and to prepare for the impacts of the warming that is now inevitable.  Just like our delayed initial response to coronavirus has made the spread of the disease worse, our delayed response to climate change will also have devastating impacts.  In particular, the report notes that greenhouse gas emissions continued to rise last year, and it appears now that in 2019 global carbon dioxide emissions likely increased by 0.6 percentWe can’t keep increasing the temperature and expect everything else to remain static.  If we continue this way, we will not contain global temperature increases within 2 degrees Celsius, much less 1.5 degrees.  This is not new news — but it continues to be alarming and lost in the shuffle of the crisis of the day.  We will pay later.

Six Key Take-Aways

Looking at the global climate indicators gives a broad picture of climate change at a global level that goes beyond temperature increases.  The WMO concluded the following on the key indicators.

  • Temperature: “The global mean temperature for 2019 was 1.1±0.1 °C above pre-industrial levels. The year 2019 is likely to have been the second warmest in instrumental records. The past five years are the five warmest on record, and the past decade, 2010–2019, is also the warmest on record.”
  • Gas Concentrations:  Concentrations of the three main greenhouse gasses “reached record levels in 2018 with carbon dioxide (CO2 ) at 407.8±0.1 parts per million (ppm), methane (CH4 ) at 1869±2 parts per billion (ppb) and nitrous oxide (N2 O) at 331.1±0.1 ppb. These values constitute, respectively, 147%, 259% and 123% of pre-industrial levels. Early indications show that the rise in all three – CO2, CH4 and N2 O – continued in 2019.”
  • Ocean Heat Content: “The ocean absorbs around 90% of the heat that is trapped in the Earth system by rising concentrations of greenhouse gases. Ocean heat content, which is a measure of this heat accumulation, reached record-high levels again in 2019.”
  • Global Sea Level:  “Sea level has increased throughout the altimeter record, but recently sea level has risen at a higher rate due partly to increased melting of ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica. In 2019, the global mean sea level reached its highest value since the beginning of the high-precision altimetry record (January 1993).”
  • Ocean Acidification: “CO2 absorbed in seawater decreases its pH, a process called ocean acidification. Observations from open ocean sources over the last 20 to 30 years show a clear decrease in average pH at a rate of 0.017–0.027 pH units per decade since the late 1980s.”
  • Sea-ice Extent and the Mass Balance of Glaciers and Ice Sheets: “The year 2019 saw low sea-ice extent in both the Arctic and the Antarctic. The daily Arctic sea-ice extent minimum in September 2019 was the second-lowest in the satellite record.”

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