A new report from the World Meteorological Organization makes it clear: Climate change is currently transforming our planet before our very eyes.

At the moment, negotiations on climate change at the climate summit in Glasgow (COP26) are in full swing. And at the start of it is the provisional State of the Climate 2021 Report released; a report from the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) that provides a snapshot of several climate indicators, such as greenhouse gas concentrations, temperatures, extreme weather and sea level. This report is one of the most important scientific reports that forms the basis of the negotiations and informs those present about the state of affairs. And as is often the case, this report does not mince words either.

Planet changes

The State of the Climate 2021 report is based on data for the first nine months of 2021. The report brings together a variety of information collected by the United Nations, as well as national meteorological and hydrological services and scientific experts. “This preliminary report is based on the most recent scientific knowledge,” said António Guterres, United Nations Secretary-General. “And it shows how our planet is changing before our very eyes. From the depths of the ocean to the highest mountain peaks and from melting glaciers to unforgiving extreme weather events; ecosystems and communities around the world are being destroyed. COP26 must be a turning point for people and the planet.”

“COP26 must be a turning point for people and planet”

sea ​​level rise

A very worrying development is still the continuous rise in sea levels. Global sea level rise has been accelerating since 2013, and will peak this year. In the report, the researchers even come to the worrying conclusion that sea levels are now rising twice as fast as they were in the 1990s. Between 1993 and 2002, the average global sea level rise was about 2.1 mm per year. But between 2013 and 2021 this increased sharply by 4.4 mm per year. These changes from the global mean are primarily due to ocean warming (causing water expansion) and accelerated land ice loss due to declining glaciers and ice sheets.

Global sea level rise from January 1993 to September 2021. Image: AVISO altimetry


In addition, the WMO is very concerned about rising temperatures. For example, the researchers state that the past seven years were the warmest on record. 2021 is expected to be ‘only’ the fifth to seventh warmest year on record. But that doesn’t mean we’re on the right track right now. The average global temperature for 2021 (based on data from January to September) is still about 1.09 degrees Celsius above the 1850-1900 average. The fact that it is slightly less warm this year than in previous years is mainly due to the influence of a moderate La Niña at the beginning of the year. A La Niña has a temporary cooling effect on the global average temperature and influences the weather and climate regionally. The last important La Niña took place in 2011. However, the temperature in 2021 is about 0.18 degrees Celsius to 0.26 degrees Celsius higher than then.

Image: WMO

Greenhouse gases

Meanwhile, concentrations of greenhouse gases continue to rise to record-breaking levels. In 2019, the average CO2 concentration was around 411 ppm (parts per million). And in 2020, the increase continued to a record-breaking 413.2 ppm. We also find a lot of methane (1889 parts per billion, ppb) and nitrous oxide (332.2 ppb) in our atmosphere. The concentrations are now a sloppy 149 percent, 262 percent and 123 percent higher, respectively, than during the pre-industrial era. This increase will continue unabated in 2021. “With the current rate of increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases, by the end of this century we will see a temperature increase well above the targets of the Paris climate agreement,” said Petteri Taalas, secretary general of the WMO.

Extreme weather conditions

According to the WMO, these record-breaking concentrations and associated accumulated heat have pushed the planet into unprecedented territory. And that has far-reaching consequences, which we have noticed all too well this year. “Extreme weather conditions are the new norm,” says Taalas. “It rained – instead of snowed – for the very first time on top of the Greenland ice sheet and Canadian glaciers were rapidly melting. A heat wave in Canada and neighboring parts of the United States pushed temperatures in a British Columbia village to nearly 50 degrees Celsius. In California’s Death Valley, temperatures even reached 54.4 degrees Celsius. Many regions along the Mediterranean also experienced record temperatures. And this exceptional heat was often accompanied by devastating fires.” But other devastating weather conditions were also reviewed. “It rained exceptionally hard in China and parts of Europe experienced severe flooding,” Taalas continues. “This resulted in dozens of victims and billions of euros in economic damage. At the same time, South America faced a second consecutive year of drought. This reduced the flow of mighty river basins and affected agriculture, transportation and energy production.” On top of that, extreme weather events such as droughts and floods particularly affect the already vulnerable population, who are least able to recover or adapt.

Increase in hunger
At the same time, the researchers note that over the past ten years, not only has the number of extreme weather events increased, but also the number of conflicts and economic setbacks. This, along with the COVID-19 pandemic, has led to an increase in hunger, the researchers say, undermining decades-long progress in improving food security. After a peak in malnutrition in 2020 (768 million people), forecasts point to a decline in global hunger to about 710 million by 2021 (9%). From October 2021, however, the numbers are already higher in many countries than in 2020.

But for all these rather worrisome results, there is also some hopeful news. And that is that COP26 can represent a very important and vital moment, which will put us back on track. The negotiations give politicians and world leaders the opportunity to do something about climate change and everything related to it. “Scientists are clear on the facts,” Guterres said. “Now leaders need to be just as clear in their actions. The solutions are there. COP26 must be a turning point. We must act now – with ambition and solidarity – to secure our future and save humanity.”

Knowing more…
…about the essential climate summit in Glasgow? Read this previously published background article about the crucial COP26, where a lot of work still needs to be done.