MADRID – This decade is set to be the hottest in history, the United Nations said Tuesday in an annual assessment outlining the ways in which climate change is outpacing humanity’s ability to adapt to it.
The World Meteorological Organization said global temperatures so far this year were 1.1 degrees Celsius (2 degrees Fahrenheit) above the pre-industrial average between 1850 and 1900.
That puts 2019 on course to be in the top three warmest years ever recorded, and possibly the hottest non-El Nino year yet.
Man-made emissions from burning fossil fuels, building infrastructure, growing crops and transporting goods mean 2019 is set to break the record for atmospheric carbon concentrations, locking in further warming, the WMO said.
Oceans, which absorb 90 percent of the excess heat produced by greenhouse gases, are now at their highest recorded temperatures.
The world’s seas are now a quarter more acidic than 150 years ago, threatening vital marine ecosystems upon which billions of people rely for food and jobs.
In October, the global mean sea level reached its highest on record, fueled by the 329 billion tons of ice lost from the Greenland ice sheet in 12 months.
Each of the last four decades has been hotter than the last.
And far from climate change being a phenomenon for future generations to confront, the effects of humanity’s insatiable, growth-at-any cost consumption means millions are already counting the damage.
The report said more than 10 million people were internally displaced in the first half of 2019 — 7 million directly due to extreme weather events such as storms, flooding and drought. By the end of the year, the WMO, said new displacements due to weather extremes could reach 22 million.
“Once again in 2019 weather and climate related risks hit hard,” said WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas. “Heat waves and floods which used to be once-in-a-century events are becoming more regular occurrences.”
At just 1 C hotter than pre-industrial times, 2019 has already seen deadly heat waves in Europe, Australia and Japan, superstorms devastate southeast Africa and wildfires rage out of control in Australia and California.
Nations are currently in crucial talks in Madrid aimed at finalizing rules for the 2015 Paris climate accord, which enjoins countries to work to limit global temperature rises to “well below” 2 C.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change last year outlined how vital it is for mankind to aim for a safer cap of 1.5 C — ideally by slashing emissions of greenhouse gases and retooling the global economy toward renewable energy.
The U.N. said last week in its annual “emissions gap” assessment that the world needs to cut carbon emissions by 7.6 percent every year until 2030 to ensure 1.5 C of temperature rise.
Instead, emissions are rising.
And while governments spend hundreds of billions of dollars subsidizing fossil fuels, there appears to be no consensus in Madrid over how countries that are already dealing with a climate-related catastrophe can fund efforts to adapt to the new reality.
“Our economic activities continue to use the atmosphere as a waste dump for greenhouse gases,” said Joeri Rogelj, a lecturer in climate change at Imperial College London.
Even if all Paris pledges were honored, Earth is still on course to be more than 3 C warmer by the end of the century.
“There is no indication of a fade-out of the warming,” Taalas told reporters. “The numbers will be higher if we continue our current behavior.”
Part of the discussions in Madrid is aimed at getting countries to increase their climate action ambition ahead of a deadline next year.
Friederike Otto, deputy director of the University of Oxford’s Environmental Change Institute, said the WMO report “highlights that we are not even adapted to 1.1 degree of warming. And there is no doubt that this 1.1 degree is due to the burning of fossil fuels.”
Christian Aid’s global climate leader, Kat Kramer, said the WMO report shows the need for concrete progress in Madrid. “Delegates have no excuse to block progress or drag their feet when the science is showing how urgently action is needed,” she said.