Guterres calls for urgent climate action and increased ambition, as UN weather agency confirms record global warming

Middle East and North Africa region faces more extreme weather

In the wake of data released by the United Nations World Meteorological Organization (WMO), showing the past four years were officially the ‘four warmest on record,’ UN Secretary-General António Guterres called for urgent climate action and increased ambition, ahead of his climate summit in September.

His reaction on Wednesday came after WMO issued a report confirming that 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018 were the four warmest years recorded to date. The analysis, based on the monitoring performed by five leading international organisations, also shows that the global average surface temperature in 2018 was approximately 1° Celsius above the pre-industrial (1850-1900) baseline.

“The long-term temperature trend is far more important than the ranking of individual years, and that trend is an upward one,” said WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas. “The 20 warmest years on record have been in the past 22 years. The degree of warming during the past four years has been exceptional, both on land and in the ocean.”

“Temperatures are only part of the story. Extreme and high impact weather affected many countries and millions of people, with devastating repercussions for economies and ecosystems in 2018,” he said.

“Many of the extreme weather events are consistent with what we expect from a changing climate. This is a reality we need to face up to. Greenhouse gas emission reduction and climate adaptation measures should be a top global priority,” said Mr. Taalas.

Noting “with concern” this data, which was first released in November 2018, UN Secretary-General Guterres said it confirms “the urgency of addressing climate action”, and echoes the science presented by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in its October 2018 special report on the impacts of a global warming of 1.5°C.

The IPCC report that found that limiting global warming to 1.5°C will require “rapid and far-reaching transitions in land, energy, industry, buildings, transport, and cities” and that global net emissions of carbon dioxide, attributable to human activity, would need to fall by about 45 per cent from 2010 levels by 2030, reaching ‘net zero’ around 2050.

The Secretary-General stated that, “to make these transformations, we need to significantly increase the global level of climate action and ambition.”

While The eastern US and parts of Canada are seeing record-breaking cold temperatures, Alaska and large parts of the Arctic have been warmer than average.

Cairo Tower, almost unseen, as a sandstorm swept across Egypt in January. © UNIC Cairo/Mahmoud Hossam

During January, severe winter storms also hit the eastern Mediterranean and parts of the Middle East, severely affecting vulnerable populations lacking adequate shelter, including refugees.

A cold front in the third week of January that swept south through the Arabian Peninsula, bringing a widespread dust storm from Egypt to Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, Iran and the United Arab Emirates, also brought heavy rain and precipitation to Pakistan and northwest India, reports WMO.

Omar Baddour, a senior scientist of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said national strategies are necessary, particularly for countries in the Middle East and North Africa region (MENA), that have no such strategies to deal with new weather conditions.

“Such countries have been accustomed to a moderate or semi-dry climate, but they are now seeing a drier and more extreme weather,” he told UN News Center.

Extreme weather killed 30 Syrian displaced children in January. ©UNICEF/ Syria 2019/ Delil Souleiman

In order to mobilize political will, Mr. Guterres is convening a Climate Summit on 23 September this year with the aim to mobilize political will to raise ambition for the achievement of the goals of the Paris Agreement and it will also demonstrate transformative action in all the areas where it is needed.

The Summit will focus on nine key areas: mitigation ambition; energy transition; industry transition; nature-based solutions; infrastructure, cities and local action; climate finance and carbon pricing; resilience and adaptation; social and political drivers; and mobilization.

Informing the discussions at the Summit alongside other key scientific reports, WMO will issue the full 2018 State of the Climate report this coming March.  It will provide a comprehensive overview of temperature variability and trends, high-impact events, and key indicators of long-term climate change such as increasing carbon dioxide concentrations; Arctic and Antarctic sea ice; sea level rise and ocean acidification.

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