Deadly heatwaves in Europe. Colossal floods in Pakistan. And prolonged and severe droughts in China, the Horn of Africa and the United States. And it’s all happening at once.
The ravages of costly extreme weather have picked up faster and with more intensity than even some experts expected, a new report combining the efforts of the World Meteorological Organization and other climate change-monitoring bodies shows Tuesday.
The accompanying assessment of the report from the U.N. spares few words in singling out the culprit.
“There is nothing natural about the new scale of these disasters. They are the price of humanity’s fossil-fuel
addiction,” U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres said in response to the WMO’s “United in Science” report.
“This year’s United in Science report shows climate impacts heading into uncharted territories of destruction,” Guterres added. “Yet each year we double-down on this fossil fuel addiction, even as the symptoms get rapidly worse. Even as we know the cure.”
Even current temperature goals may not be enough to turn away the worst of climate change. Global leaders pledged in the voluntary 2015 Paris Agreement to limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius, mostly by cutting the emissions that come with burning oil and gas, and by building out climate resilience so that the economic impact of rising seas and other developments could be limited. But the report issued Tuesday and the position of the U.N.’s Guterres indicates that the richest nations in particular are falling short.
“All countries must boost their national climate ambition every year, until we are on track,” Guterres said. “The G-20 [largest economies], which is responsible for 80% of global emissions, must lead the way. There must be no new coal plants built, with coal phased out by 2030 for [Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development] countries, and by 2040 for all others. The current fossil fuel free-for-all must end now.”
Report authors said that the ability to track and respond to climate change is improving, if nations will adopt more of an emergency response.
“Climate science is increasingly able to show that many of the extreme weather events that we are experiencing have become more likely and more intense due to human-induced climate change. We have seen this repeatedly this year, with tragic effect,” said WMO Secretary-General Prof. Petteri Taalas.
“It is more important than ever that we scale up action on early warning systems to build resilience to current and future climate risks in vulnerable communities,” Taalas said. “That is why WMO is spearheading a drive to ensure [a program called] Early Warnings for All in the next five years.”
A separate report issued last week offered a new assessment of tipping points within the climate system and indicates that far more stringent emissions cuts may be needed even when compared to the most ambitious current plans. The U.S. under the Biden administration , for instance, has said it aims to halve greenhouse gas emissions by as soon as 2030, on the way to net-zero emissions by 2050. The pledge is largely aligned with the bulk of the industrialized world, although China’s target year is 2060.
That earlier study finds that even the Paris Agreement’s most stringent warming target of 1.5°C compared to preindustrial levels could trigger some of the expected tipping points, including the abrupt thawing of permanently frozen soil that rings the Arctic and the die-off of warm-water coral reefs.
Cities — home to 55% of the global population, or 4.2 billion people — are responsible for up to 70% of human-caused emissions while also highly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change such as increased heavy precipitation, accelerated sea-level rise, acute and chronic coastal flooding and extreme heat, among other key risks. These impacts exacerbate socioeconomic challenges and inequalities, the report said.
But the report hits as global energy supplies remain in flux, in part due to a strong rebound in demand after the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic, and amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, both resource-rich nations.
Emergency action to ease an energy crisis in the U.K. and continental Europe, particularly before the winter heating crunch has renewed calls for coal use, while at the same time reinvigorating pro-alternative energy camps who favor what can be more local control over solar, wind, nuclear and other sources. For now, Russia’s squeeze on natural gas supplies
is starting to hit sectors well beyond utilities and energy-intensive industries.