Emissions are rising again. And the ‘green recovery’ that many hoped for after this far-reaching crisis is nowhere to be seen.

When the corona crisis broke out and the world came to a standstill, many also saw this terrible period as a new start. Scientists suggested that we should try to make the economy grow back ‘greener’ after corona. This can be done, for example, by integrating plans to halt climate change with plans to bring the economy back to life. Slowly but surely the world is moving again at the moment. But there is no sign of that ‘green recovery’ yet.


It new United in Science report comes with the unambiguous findings. For example, the authors argue that COVID-19 has not slowed the relentless advance of climate change. There is no sign of countries getting ‘greener’ as carbon dioxide emissions have returned to their previous levels after a temporary decline due to the economic shutdown. “During the pandemic, we have been told that we need to rebuild better to put humanity on a more sustainable path and avert the worst impacts of climate change on societies and economies,” said WMO Secretary General Petteri Taalas. “The new report shows that we are not going in the right direction in 2021 so far.”

What is the United in Science report?
The United in Science report is a collection of key climate science findings by leading global climate change research organizations. The United in Science 2021 report is the third in a series and is coordinated by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), with input from the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), the World Health Organization (WHO), the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the Global Carbon Project (GCP), the World Climate Research Program (WCRP) and Met Office (UK).

Data shows that concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere continue to rise to record highs. This forces the planet into dangerous future warming. These rising global temperatures will, in turn, fuel devastating extreme weather, the researchers say. And that will in turn have an impact on economies and societies. It is estimated that more than 103 billion potential working hours were lost in 2019 – compared to the year 2000 – due to heat alone.


It means that the drivers and impacts of climate change are increasing and that not enough is being done to meet the emissions targets. “The new report paints a grim and alarming picture,” said researcher Joeri Rogelj. “We are experiencing unprecedented climate change and we have caused it ourselves. Our actions so far are largely insufficient to prevent it from getting worse.”


Researchers come to some disturbing conclusions in the report. For example, the concentrations of the most important greenhouse gases – carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O) – will continue to rise unhindered in 2020 and the first half of 2021. In addition, the average temperature on Earth over the past five years was one of the highest ever recorded, estimated at 1.06 to 1.26 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels (period between 1850-1900). The chance is therefore increasing that the temperature will temporarily exceed the 1.5-degree limit in the next five years.

Conclusions from the United in Science report. Image: WMO

In addition, in 2021 we have already experienced some devastating, extreme weather and climate events (think of the extreme heat that ravaged North America and the Western European floods); an important feature of human-induced climate change. And while it is encouraging that an increasing number of countries are saying they are committed to net-zero emissions targets, to be attainable and credible, these targets urgently need to be reflected in policy.


The hope is that COP26, the upcoming Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, will be a turning point. “But that would require all countries to commit to net-zero emissions by 2050,” said United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. “This must be supported by concrete long-term strategies that will reduce global emissions by 45 percent by 2030.” COP26, which will take place next November, will show whether we can indeed prevent climate change from getting further and further out of control, how countries are actually doing and how ambitious the targets are.

“We need a breakthrough,” Guterres continues. “We need to protect people’s livelihoods by building resilience and helping people adapt. And we need more solidarity, including full implementation of long-standing pledges to help developing countries take climate action. There is no alternative if we want a safer, more sustainable and prosperous future for all. The report is clear, time is running out.”