Image by Darwin Laganzon from Pixabay

EXPERT REACTION: WMO Provisional Statement on the State of the Climate

Embargoed until: Publicly released:
The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) says, in their Provisional Statement on the State of the Climate, that 2019 ends a decade of exceptional global heat, retreating ice and record sea levels driven by greenhouse gasses from human activities. They say that between January and October of this year, the average global temperature was about 1.1 degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial period. Additionally, CO2 in the atmosphere hit a new record level of 407.8 parts per million in 2018, but continued to rise in 2019. The WMO Secretary-General suggests that “If we do not take urgent climate action now, then we are heading for a temperature increase of more than 3°C by the end of the century, with ever more harmful impacts on human wellbeing”.

Journal/conference: COP25 - UN Climate Change Conference

Organisation/s: World Meteorological Organization (WMO), Monash University, The University of Melbourne, The University of Sydney, The Australian National University, University of Tasmania, Macquarie University

Media Release

From: World Meteorological Organization (WMO)

2019 concludes a decade of exceptional global heat and high-impact weather

Madrid, 3 December 2019 - The year 2019 concludes a decade of exceptional global heat, retreating ice and record sea levels driven by greenhouse gases from human activities. Average temperatures for the five-year (2015-2019) and ten-year (2010-2019) periods are almost certain to be the highest on record. 2019 is on course to be the second or third warmest year on record, according to the World Meteorological Organization.

The WMO provisional statement on the State of the Global Climate, says that the global average temperature in 2019 (January to October) was about 1.1 degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial period.

Concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere hit a record level of 407.8 parts per million in 2018 and continued to rise in 2019. CO2 lasts in the atmosphere for centuries and the ocean for even longer, thus locking in climate change.
 
Sea level rise has accelerated since the start of satellite measurements in 1993 because of the melting of ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica, according to the report.
 
The ocean, which acts as a buffer by absorbing heat and carbon dioxide, is paying a heavy price. Ocean heat is at record levels and there have been widespread marine heatwaves. Sea water is 26 percent more acidic than at the start of the industrial era. Vital marine ecosystems are being degraded.
 
The daily Arctic sea-ice extent minimum in September 2019 was the second lowest in the satellite record and October has seen further record low extents. In Antarctica, 2019 saw record low ice extents in some months.
 
“If we do not take urgent climate action now, then we are heading for a temperature increase of more than 3°C by the end of the century, with ever more harmful impacts on human wellbeing,” said WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas. “We are nowhere near on track to meet the Paris Agreement target.”
 
“On a day-to-day basis, the impacts of climate change play out through extreme and “abnormal” weather. And, once again in 2019, weather and climate related risks hit hard. Heatwaves and floods which used to be “once in a century” events are becoming more regular occurrences. Countries ranging from the Bahamas to Japan to Mozambique suffered the effect of devastating  tropical cyclones. Wildfires swept through the Arctic and Australia,” said Mr Taalas.
 
“One of the main impacts of climate change is more erratic rainfall patterns. This poses a threat to crop yields and, combined with population increase, will mean considerable food security challenges for vulnerable countries in the future,” he said.
 
The report devotes an extensive section to weather and climate impacts on human health, food security, migration, ecosystems and marine life. This is based on input from a wide variety of United Nations partners (listed in notes to editors). 
 
Extreme heat conditions are taking an increasing toll on human health and health systems with greater impacts where there are aging populations, urbanization, urban heat island effects, and health inequities.  In 2018, a record 220 million more heatwave exposures by vulnerable persons over the age of 65 occurred, compared with the average for the baseline of 1986-2005. 
 
Climate variability and extreme weather events are among the key drivers of the recent rise in global hunger and one of the leading causes of severe crises. After a decade of steady decline, hunger is on the rise again – over 820 million people suffered from hunger in 2018.  Among 33 countries affected by food crises in 2018, climate variability and weather extremes a compounding driver together with economic shocks and conflict in 26 countries and the leading driver in 12 of the 26.
 
More than 10 million new internal displacements were recorded between January and June 2019, 7 million being triggered by hazard events such as Cyclone Idai in southeast Africa, Cyclone Fani in south Asia, Hurricane Dorian in the Caribbean, flooding in Iran, the Philippines and Ethiopia, generating acute humanitarian and protection needs.
 
The provisional State of the Climate report provides an authoritative source of information for the U.N. climate change negotiations, known as CoP25, which take place in Madrid from 2 to 13 December. It complements the reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
 
The final Statement on the State of the Climate with complete 2019 data will be published in March 2020.
 

Global Climate Indicators

 
2019 ends warmest decade on record
 
The global mean temperature for the period January to October 2019 was 1.1 ± 0.1 °C above pre-industrial conditions (1850-1900). The five-year (2015-2019) and ten-year (2010-2019) averages are, respectively, almost certain to be the warmest five-year period and decade on record. Since the 1980s, each successive decade has been warmer than the last.
2019 is expected to be the second or third warmest year on record. 2016, which began with an exceptionally strong El Niño, remains the warmest year.
 
Large areas of the Arctic were unusually warm in 2019. Most land areas were warmer than the recent average, including South America, Europe, Africa, Asia and Oceania. The U.S. state of Alaska was also exceptionally warm. In contrast a large area of North America has been colder than the recent average.
 
Record greenhouse gas concentrations
 
In 2018, greenhouse gas concentrations reached new highs, with globally averaged mole fractions of carbon dioxide (CO2) at 407.8±0.1 parts per million (ppm), methane (CH4) at 1869±2 parts per billion (ppb) and nitrous oxide (N2O) at 331.1±0.1 ppb.  These values constitute, respectively, 147%, 259% and 123% of pre-industrial 1750 levels.
 
Global average figures for 2019 will not be available until late 2020, but real-time data from a number of specific locations indicate that CO2 levels continued to rise in 2019.
 
Acceleration of global mean sea level rise
 
Sea level has increased throughout the satellite altimetery record, but the rate has increased over that time, due partly to melting of ice sheets on Greenland and Antarctica. In October 2019, the global mean sea level reached its highest value since the beginning of the high-precision altimetry record (January 1993).
 
 Ocean heat
 
More than 90% of the excess energy accumulating in the climate system as a result of increased concentrations of greenhouse gases goes into the ocean. In 2019, ocean heat content in the upper 700m (in a series starting in the 1950s) and upper 2000m (in a series starting in 2005) continued at record or near-record levels, with the average for the year so far exceeding the previous record highs set in 2018.
 
Satellite retrievals of sea-surface temperature can be used to monitor marine heatwaves. So far in 2019, the ocean has on average experienced around 1.5 months of unusually warm temperatures. More of the ocean had a marine heatwave classified as "Strong" (38%) than "Moderate" (28%). In the north-east Pacific, large areas reached a marine heatwave category of “Severe”.
 
Continued ocean acidification
 
In the decade 2009-2018, the ocean absorbed around 22% of the annual emissions of CO2, which helps to attenuate climate change. However, increasing atmospheric CO2 concentrations affect the chemistry of the ocean.
 
Ocean observations have shown a decrease in the average global surface ocean pH at a rate of 0.017–0.027 pH units per decade since the late 1980s, as reported in the IPCC Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate, which is equivalent to an increase in acidity of 26% since the beginning of the industrial revolution.
 
Decline of sea ice
 
The continued long term decline of Arctic Sea Ice was confirmed in 2019. The September monthly average extent (usually the lowest of the year) was the third lowest on record with the daily minimum extent tied for second lowest
 
Until 2016, Antarctic sea ice extent had shown a small long-term increase. In late 2016 this was interrupted by a sudden drop in extent to extreme values. Since then, Antarctic sea-ice extent has remained at relatively low levels.
 
Greenland ice sheet
 
Total ice Mass Balance (TMB) for the Greenland Ice Sheet gives a net ice loss for September 2018 to August 2019 of 329 Gigatonnes (Gt). To put this into context, data from the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) satellites tell us that Greenland lost about 260 Gt of ice per year over the period 2002-2016, with a maximum of 458 Gt in 2011/12.
 
High impact events
 
Floods
 
The Central USA, Northern Canada, Northern Russia and Southwest Asia received abnormally high precipitation. The 12-month rainfall averaged over the contiguous United States for the period for July 2018 to June 2019 (962 mm) was the highest on record
 
The onset and withdrawal of the Indian Monsoon were delayed, causing a large precipitation deficit in June but an excess of precipitation in the following months.
 
Very wet conditions affected parts of South America in January. There was major flooding in northern Argentina, Uruguay and southern Brazil, with losses in Argentina and Uruguay estimated at US$2.5 billion.
 
The Islamic Republic of Iran was badly affected by flooding in late March and early April. Major flooding affected many hitherto drought-affected parts of east Africa in October and early November.
 
Drought
 
Drought affected many parts of southeast Asia and the southwest Pacific in 2019, associated in many cases with the strong positive phase of the Indian Ocean Dipole. Exceptionally dry conditions prevailed from mid-year onwards in Indonesia and neighbouring countries, as well as parts of the Mekong basin further north. Long-term drought conditions which had affected many parts of inland eastern Australia in 2017 and 2018 expanded and intensified in 2019. Averaged over Australia as a whole, January-October was the driest since 1902.
 
Dry conditions affected many parts of Central America. It was substantially drier than normal in Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua and El Salvador, until heavy rains in October. Central Chile also had an exceptionally dry year, with rainfall for the year to 20 November at Santiago only 82 mm, less than 25% of the long-term average.
 
Heatwaves
 
Two major heatwaves occurred in Europe in late June and late July. In France, a national record of 46.0°C (1.9°C above the previous record) was set on 28 June. National records were also set in Germany (42.6°C), the Netherlands (40.7°C), Belgium (41.8°C), Luxembourg (40.8°C) and the United Kingdom (38.7°C), with the heat also extending into the Nordic countries, where Helsinki had its highest temperature on record (33.2°C on 28 July).

Australia had an exceptionally hot summer. The mean summer temperature was the highest on record by almost 1°C, and January was Australia’s hottest month on record. The heat was most notable for its persistence but there were also significant individual extremes, including 46.6°C at Adelaide on 24 January, the city’s highest temperature on record
 
Wildfires
 
It was an above-average fire year in several high-latitude regions, including Siberia (Russian Federation) and Alaska (US), with fire activity occurring in some parts of the Arctic where it was previously extremely rare.
 
The severe drought in Indonesia and neighbouring countries led to the most significant fire season since 2015. The number of reported fires in Brazil’s Amazonia region was only slightly above the 10-year average, but total fire activity in South America was the highest since 2010, with Bolivia and Venezuela among the countries with particularly active fire years.
 
Tropical cyclones
 
Tropical cyclone activity globally in 2019 was slightly above average. The Northern Hemisphere, to date, has had 66 tropical cyclones, compared with the average at this time of year of 56, although accumulated cyclone energy (ACE) was only 2% above average. The 2018-19 Southern Hemisphere season was also above average, with 27 cyclones.
 
Tropical Cyclone Idai made landfall in Mozambique on 15 March as one of the strongest known on the east coast of Africa, resulting in many casualties and widespread devastation. Idai contributed to the complete destruction of close to 780 000 ha of crops in Malawi, Mozambique, and Zimbabwe, further undermining a precarious food security situation in the region. The cyclone also resulted in at least 50 905 displaced persons in Zimbabwe, 53 237 in southern Malawi and 77 019 in Mozambique.

One of the year’s most intense tropical cyclones was Dorian, which made landfall with category 5 intensity in the Bahamas. The destruction was worsened as it was exceptionally slow-moving and remained near-stationary for about 24 hours.
 
Typhoon Hagibis made landfall west of Tokyo on 12 October, causing severe flooding.
 
Climate-related risks and impacts
 
Health at increasing risk (World Health Organization)
 
In 2019, record-setting high temperatures from Australia, India, Japan, and Europe impacted health and well-being. In Japan, a major heat wave event affected the country in late July to early August 2019 resulting in over 100 deaths and an additional 18 000 hospitalizations. Europe experienced two significant heat waves in the summer of 2019. In June, a heatwave affecting southwestern to central Europe resulted in a number of deaths in Spain and France. The most significant heat wave was in late July, affecting much of central and western Europe. In the Netherlands, the heatwave was associated with 2 964 deaths, nearly 400 more deaths than during an average summer week
 
Changes in climatic conditions since 1950 are making it easier for the Aedes mosquito species to transmit dengue virus, increasing the risk of the occurrence of disease. In parallel, the global incidence of dengue has grown dramatically in recent decades, and about half of the world population is now at risk of infection. In 2019, the world has experienced a large increase in dengue cases, compared with the same time period in 2018.
 
Food security continues to be negatively affected
(Food and Agriculture Organization)
 
In Southern Africa, the start of the seasonal rains was delayed and there were extensive dry periods. Regional cereal output is forecasted to be about 8 percent below the five-year average with 12.5 million people in the region expected to experience severe food insecurity up to March 2020, an increase of more than 10 percent from the previous year.
 
Food security has been deteriorating in several areas of Ethiopia, Somalia, Kenya and Uganda due to a poor long/Gu rainy season. Overall, about 12.3 million people are food insecure in the Horn of Africa region. Between October and November 2019, Somalia was further affected by intense flooding.
 
Associated with the  worst flooding in a decade affecting some parts of Afghanistan in March 2019, 13.5 million people are food insecure in the country, with 22 out of 34 provinces still recovering from severe drought conditions faced in 2018.
 
Disasters increase population displacement (UN High Commissioner for Refugees and International Organization for Migration)
 
More than 10 million new internal displacements were recorded between January and June 2019, 7 million being triggered by disasters such as Cyclone Idai in Southeast Africa, Cyclone Fani in South Asia, Hurricane Dorian in the Caribbean, flooding in Iran, the Philippines and Ethiopia, associated with acute humanitarian and protection needs.
 
Floods were the most commonly cited natural hazard contributing to displacement, followed by storms and droughts. Asia and the Pacific remains the world’s most disaster displacement-prone region due to both sudden and slow-onset disasters.
 
The number of new displacements associated with weather extremes could more than triple to around 22 million by the end of 2019.
 
Notes for Editors
Information used in this report is sourced from a large number of National Meteorological and Hydrological Services (NMHSs) and associated institutions, as well as Regional Climate Centres, the World Climate Research Programme (WCRP), the Global Atmosphere Watch (GAW) and Global Cryosphere Watch. Information has also been supplied by a number of other United Nations agencies, including the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO (IOC-UNESCO) and UN Environment, the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, the UN Conference on Trade and Development, the World Food Programme and World Health Organization.
WMO uses datasets (based on monthly climatological data from observing sites) from the United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, and the United Kingdom’s Met Office Hadley Centre and the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit in the United Kingdom.
It also uses reanalysis datasets from the European Centre for Medium Range Weather Forecasts and its Copernicus Climate Change Service, and the Japan Meteorological Agency.  This method combines millions of meteorological and marine observations, including from satellites, with models to produce a complete reanalysis of the atmosphere. The combination of observations with models makes it possible to estimate temperatures at any time and in any place across the globe, even in data-sparse areas such as the polar regions.

Expert Reaction

These comments have been collated by the Science Media Centre to provide a variety of expert perspectives on this issue. Feel free to use these quotes in your stories. Views expressed are the personal opinions of the experts named. They do not represent the views of the SMC or any other organisation unless specifically stated.

Dr Paul Read is Senior Research Fellow at the Monash Sustainability Institute at Monash University and a Co-Director of the National Centre for Research in Bushfire and Arson

The World Meteorological Organization is the global authority on climate change and its latest report confirms some of the worst, as well as a few more, issues that are speeding up behind us faster than expected. 

Apart from confirming weather records falling like dominoes, the rising issues of concern to me include ocean acidity, air quality, crop failures, infectious diseases, climate refugees and mismatches between ecological signals for reproduction among animals and plants.

We are heading into unknown territory.

It's not just climate change but the accelerated demise of species and habitats that keep us alive - look at the recent Extinction Report alongside the steady stream of climate reports. If we stopped and took stock we could still manage to forestall the worst and even feed the entire world without loss of life expectancy worldwide. 

That chance will vanish in the mid-2020s, which then makes me worry all the more about the geopolitical tremors emerging between nations. 

But, even this is not a foregone conclusion if we exercised our power as voters and consumers in support of our children's future. 

I've just spent the past four months talking to  the world's media about the burning of the planet and the rise of unseasonal megafires. In each case these fires had their origins in human inequality, and this, in essence, is the wellspring of climate chaos. 

Last updated: 04 Dec 2019 3:00pm
Declared conflicts of interest:
None declared.
Fiona Armstrong is Founder and Executive Director of the Climate and Health Alliance, a founding director of CLIMARTE: Arts for a Safe Climate, a Fellow of the Centre for Policy Development, and an Associate of the Melbourne Sustainable Societies Institute at the University of Melbourne

As representatives of the world's nations gather in Madrid, the WMO statement serves as a timely reminder of what it is at stake: human lives, a stable climate, all the other species at which we marvel, in short, everything we know and love, is at risk from climate change. Along with climate scientists, health and medical scientists have been sounding the alarm for decades, while a cabal of vested interests have worked to undermine and discredit those warnings.

Health and medical representatives are also present in Madrid, working behind the scenes as well as in the public domain to ask for health to be prioritised in the programs and initiatives that the world develops to tackle climate change.

If health is not part of each Nation's Determined Commitment, we urge citizens of all nations to ask: "why not?" "Why is the health and wellbeing of the community not a concern for their government?" In the case of Australia, we state clearly: The government is not doing enough. The federal government is not telling the truth when it comes to Australia meeting the Paris Commitments. The government is ignoring the human catastrophe that is unfolding across our country and across the world. Along with our international colleagues, we are calling on each of our governments to: tell the truth, commit to act, and act with determination and courage. There is only one pathway forward - take it, and quickly, for the sake of our children, and all remaining species.

Last updated: 03 Dec 2019 5:27pm
Declared conflicts of interest:
None declared.
Professor Rosemary Lyster is Professor of Climate and Environmental Law and Director of the Australian Centre for Climate and Environmental Law at the University of Sydney

The WMO report reveals the shocking neglect by countries who are Parties to the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the 2015 Paris Agreement, especially developed countries, to deal with global climate change. Millions of people around the world are facing its devastating consequences. We Australians, our ecosystems and species are also suffering - the bleaching of the Reef, the disaster in the Murray Darling Basin and the fires. Everyone needs to know that the Paris Agreement commitments are woefully inadequate to meet the challenges we face.

As UNEP’s Emissions Gap Report, published on 29 November 2019, reveals, all countries must increase their emissions reduction effort five-fold to hold global temperature rises at 1.5°C and three times for a well below 2°C rise. In Australia, we need politicians, Prime Ministers and Premiers who face the facts, discuss them honestly and openly, especially at a time of disasters like fires, and take meaningful and legally binding action. This includes taking responsibility for the emissions from our coal burnt beyond our borders. There are no escape clauses here. Leaders meeting now in Madrid for the annual climate change negotiations have an obligation to declare a ‘climate emergency’ and take appropriate action.

Last updated: 03 Dec 2019 5:08pm
Declared conflicts of interest:
None declared.
Professor Justin Borevitz is a Chief Investigator at the ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology's ANU node, and is the Leader of the Australian Plant Phenomics Facility's High Resolution Plant Phenomcis Centre ANU node.

The world meteorological organization statement summarizes the climate and extreme weather of the year and the decade.  The trends are certainly in line with expectations from a warming climate due to CO2 from fossil fuel burning.

We will look back on this extreme year and decade of unprecedented droughts and fires as relatively benign compared to what is coming even in the best case with dramatic emissions reductions. This is because substantial further warming is in the pipeline due to earth's energy imbalance. Agriculture and ecosystems are being pushed to their limits and need interventions to enhance resilience.

Careful deployment, at national and global scale, of land based CO2 drawdown approaches, including regenerative agriculture and ecosystem restoration, are urgently needed. This needs to occur along with a rapid energy shift coupling renewable energy, energy efficiency, storage and electrified transport. Many co-benefits can come with this transition, including enhanced food and energy security, improved health, better livelihoods and long term economic stability.

Last updated: 03 Dec 2019 4:58pm
Declared conflicts of interest:
None declared.
Dr Jonathan Symons is a Senior Lecturer Politics and International Relations at Macquarie University

The World Meteorological Organization’s Provisional Statement on the State of the Climate in 2019 confirms that temperatures are increasing:

  • Globally the five-year period (2015-2019) will almost certainly be the warmest on record
  • the global average temperature in 2019 (January to October) was about 1.1 degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial period
  • January 2019 was Australia’s hottest month on record
  • Averaged over Australia as a whole, January-October was the driest since 1902. Western Indonesia faces similar conditions
  • As of 2018, major greenhouse gases were continuing to accumulate in the atmosphere at an accelerating rate (carbon dioxide (CO2) at 407.8±0.1 parts per million (ppm), methane (CH4and nitrous oxide (N2O) at 331.1±0.1 ppb)
  • The ocean is becoming hotter and more acidic.

Australia's political debate seems entirely disconnected from the scientific realities captured in the “State of the Climate in 2019” report.

  • it is beyond dispute that temperatures are increasing and that the climate is changing.
  • since temperatures are not expected to stabilise until net global carbon dioxide emissions are around zero, we should assume that the planet will continue to warm for many decades to come.
  • governments need to consider how best to prepare for future warming – this has implications for public health, infrastructure, urban design, fire management, development of new crop varieties etc.
  • policy-makers should consider how to develop negative emissions technologies that draw down CO2 from the atmosphere.
  • since the goal of zero emissions seems to be politically impossible with today’s technologies, policies should also seek to promote low-carbon innovation.
Last updated: 03 Dec 2019 4:57pm
Declared conflicts of interest:
None declared.
Associate Professor Pete Strutton is from the Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies at the University of Tasmania and the ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate Extremes

This report from the WMO shows that 2019 temperatures so far are 1.1°C above pre-industrial. The report details a long and serious list of consequences of this climate change so far, including land and ocean heat waves, drought, fires, ocean acidification, human displacement due to natural disasters, increasing malnutrition and decreased food security.

While the consequences of this 1.1°C increase are already very serious, the report emphasizes that we are way behind what needs to be done to limit warming to 3°C. In fact, we have passed the point where emissions reduction alone will mitigate climate change. There is no way for Earth to stay below 3°C without large scale emissions capture and storage, in addition to massive emissions reduction. Governments and individuals need to act swiftly.

Last updated: 03 Dec 2019 4:55pm
Declared conflicts of interest:
None declared.
Dr Thomas Mortlock is a Senior Risk Scientist at Risk Frontiers, and Adjunct Fellow in the Department of Environmental Sciences at Macquarie University

Climate attribution studies now indicate that it is highly likely that the increase in the mean global temperature over the past several decades could not have occurred without anthropogenic greenhouse emissions. The recent WMO report is significant in that it shows global CO2 levels have risen to the highest point since modern records began approximately 200 years ago. Indeed, records of isotopes trapped in Antarctic ice suggest atmospheric CO2 has oscillated between 170 and 300 ppm (parts per million) between glacial and interglacial cycles over the past 800,000 years - we are now well outside this natural envelope of variability at over 400 ppm. As a result, some of the impacts of climate change are 'baked in' for the next several decades regardless of mitigation. We can still determine the level of warming we experience beyond 2050, however, by decisions made today. 

A key climate change impact for Australia is sea level rise. Over 80 % of Australia's population live in the coastal zone. However, rates of sea level rise for the coming century remain highly uncertain due to ice sheet instabilities in Antarctica. Antarctic research is increasingly suggesting that the current level of 1 m rise by 2100 - commonly adopted for coastal planning - may be insufficient for the most critical of infrastructure on the coast in Australia, such as airports.

Last updated: 03 Dec 2019 4:33pm
Declared conflicts of interest:
None declared.

News for:

Australia
New Zealand
International
NSW
VIC
TAS
ACT

Media contact details for this story are only visible to registered journalists.