A new report published ahead of a key United Nations climate talks: United in Science seriously warned that the world is falling drastically behind in the race to avert climate disaster, with the five-year period ending in 2019 the hottest on record.
The report comes in the wake of Friday’s global climate strike, which saw millions of people, mostly students across the globe hit the streets to demand more action against climate crisis.
This was an unprecedented global demonstration demanding urgent action to tackle global heating, joining a movement started by Swedish teenage activist Greta Thunberg.
An estimated 300,000 Australian gathered at rallies around the country in one of the largest protest incidents in Australia’s history.
Like the report, the strike was timed to put pressure on the leaders gathering for the climate summit, which is being held ahead of the annual UN general assembly. Leaders from about 60 countries are scheduled to speak at the summit, including India’s Narendra Modi, Germany’s Angela Merkel and Britain’s Boris Johnson.
In a meeting with young activists gathered at UN headquarters in New York, UN Secretary General António Guterres said the world was “losing the race” on climate change.
“There is a serious conflict between people and the planet,” he said, adding that the world was fraying and needed international cooperation more than ever.
“Let’s face it, we have no time to lose,” he said.
Guterres asked leaders to come to the summit with new commitments to put the globe closer to meeting the Paris agreement goals of limiting global heating to at least 2C, and as close to 1.5C as possible, compared with pre-industrial levels.
He said it required countries to cut emissions by 45% by 2030, end fossil fuel subsidies and ban new coal plants after 2020.
“Sea-level rise has accelerated and we are concerned [about] an abrupt decline in the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets, which will exacerbate future rise”, said WMO secretary-general Petteri Taalas.
“As we have seen this year with tragic effect in the Bahamas and Mozambique, sea-level rise and intense tropical storms led to humanitarian and economic catastrophes.”
The new report reveals that global temperatures between 2015-2019 were the hottest on record. It warns of the alarming extent of sea-level rise and melting glaciers.
The data, compiled by the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO), says climate change is accelerating, with sea levels rising, carbon dioxide levels increasing and ice sheets melting faster than ever before.
It warns that carbon-cutting efforts have to be intensified immediately as Guterres pushes for countries to increase their greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction targets.
The report “highlights the urgent need for the development of concrete actions that halt global warming and the worst effects of climate change,” said its authors, the Science Advisory Group to the summit.
Average global temperatures between 2015-2019 were on track to be the hottest of any five years on record, according to the report. It highlights that global temperatures have risen by 1.1 degrees Celsius since 1850, and have gone up 0.2C between 2011 and 2015.
And rather than falling, carbon dioxide grew 2 per cent in 2018, reaching a record high of 37 billion tons and locking in further warming.
According to the report, carbon emissions between 2015 and 2019 had grown by 20 per cent compared with the previous five years. Other major takeaways include alarming new data on the extent of sea-level rise.
Sea levels have been rising by an average of 5 millimeters a year in the past five years, compared to 3.2mm a year on average since 1993, with much of the rise attributed to melting glaciers and ice sheets.
The report flagged that Arctic summer sea ice has declined at a rate of 12 per cent per decade over the past 40 years, with the four lowest values between 2015 and 2019.
The amount of ice lost from the Antarctic ice sheet increased by a factor of six each year between 1979 and 2017, while glacier loss for 2015-19 is also the highest for any five-year period on record.
The 2015 Paris Agreement saw countries lay out national targets to reduce their emissions to limit long-term temperature rise by either 2 degrees Celsius or 1.5C.
These are benchmarks that will limit in important ways the impact of warming on world weather systems.
The report found that heatwaves were the deadliest weather hazard in the 2015-19 period, affecting all continents and setting new national temperature records.
The summer of 2019, which included the hottest ever month on record in July, saw unprecedented wildfires in the Arctic.
In June, these were responsible for emitting 50 megatons of carbon dioxide.
The assessment has found commitments to cut GHG emissions must be at least tripled and increased by up to fivefold if the world is to meet the goals of the 2015 Paris climate agreement.
The report says current plans would lead to a rise in average global temperatures of between 2.9C and 3.4C by 2100, a shift likely to bring catastrophic change across the globe.
Coordinated by the World Meteorological Organisation, the report says it is still possible to reduce the gap and keep global heating to a safe level, but it would require an urgent shift in commitments and action.
The five years between 2015 and 2019 are on track to be on average 1.1C hotter than pre-industrial times and the warmest of any equivalent period on record.
The report says many of the changes linked to the temperature rise, including long-lasting heatwaves, record-breaking wildfires, declining sea ice and glaciers, cyclones, floods and drought, have hit sooner and harder than predicted a decade ago.
The report estimates global emissions are not likely to peak before 2030 on the current trajectory.
It says policies to reduce emissions must triple to meet the 2C target and increase fivefold to keep heating to within 1.5C.
Pep Canadell, the executive director of the Global Carbon Project and a contributing author on the report, said the report confirmed well-established trends, including that climate changes had accelerated in the past three decades, and particularly in the past 10 years.
“How many climate records does it take to accept the unprecedented nature of what we are living and to act upon it?”
A separate report to be released on today (Monday) has found emissions from coal power would need to peak next year and fall to zero by 2040 if the world is to meet the Paris goals.
For developed countries that have the capacity to move more rapidly to cleaner sources, such as Australia, the US and those in western Europe, it would mean ending coal use for electricity by 2031. Less developed countries would need to shut their coal plants across the following decade.
There has been a shift away from investors backing new coal developments, reflected in a 75% fall in the number of new plants planned across the globe since 2015, but the analysis by Berlin-based Climate Analytics said cancelling new projects was not enough.
According to the International Energy Agency, emissions from coal power rose 2.9% in 2018 and account for nearly a third of global carbon dioxide pollution.
“Governments now need to introduce effective regulation to shut down coal power plants well before the end of their technical lifetime and considerably reduce their use in the meantime,” Paola Yanguas Parra, from Climate Analytics, said.
Yanguas Parra said the date at which coal would need to be phased out to give the world a chance of limiting warming to 1.5C had been brought forward following an assessment by the IPCC last year and because governments had not tackled coal use adequately since the 2015 Paris summit.
Donald Trump, the U.S. president, who has pledged to pull the US out of the Paris agreement, will not attend the summit.
Australia will be represented by Marise Payne, the foreign affairs minister, despite the prime minister, Scott Morrison, being in the U.S. this week, after Morrison refused to meet a request from Guterres that countries announce new commitments before attending.