EXPERT REACTION: We're not on track to meet climate change targets, WMO Climate Report says

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The world is set to miss the climate change targets agreed as part of the Paris agreement, according to the latest provisional statement on the state of the climate in 2018 from the  World Meteorological Organization (WMO). The long-term warming trend has continued in 2018, with the average global temperature set to be the fourth highest on record, while the 20 warmest years on record have been in the past 22 years, with the top four in the past four years, according to the report. Other tell-tale signs of climate change, including sea level rise, ocean heat and acidification and sea-ice and glacier melt continue, whilst extreme weather left a trail of devastation on all continents. The report also states that global temperatures for the first 10 months of 2018 were nearly 1°C above the pre-industrial baseline.

Organisation/s: World Meteorological Organisation

Media Release

From: World Meteorological Organisation

Climate change signals and impacts continue in 2018

The long-term warming trend has continued in 2018, with the average global temperature set to be the fourth highest on record. The 20 warmest years on record have been in the past 22 years, with the top four in the past four years, according to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO).

Other tell-tale signs of climate change, including sea level rise, ocean heat and acidification and sea-ice and glacier melt continue, whilst extreme weather left a trail of devastation on all continents, according to the WMO provisional Statement on the State of the Climate in 2018. It includes details of impacts of climate change based on contributions from a wide range of United Nations partners.

The report shows that the global average temperature for the first ten months of the year was nearly 1°C above the pre-industrial baseline (1850-1900). This is based on five independently maintained global temperature data sets.

“We are not on track to meet climate change targets and rein in temperature increases,” said WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas. “Greenhouse gas concentrations are once again at record levels and if the current trend continues we may see temperature increases 3-5°C by the end of the century. If we exploit all known fossil fuel resources, the temperature rise will be considerably higher,” he said.

“It is worth repeating once again that we are the first generation to fully understand climate change and the last generation to be able to do something about it,” said Mr Taalas.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) special report on Global Warming of 1.5°C reported that the average global temperature for the decade 2006-2015 was 0.86°C above the pre-industrial baseline. The average increase above the same baseline for the most recent decade 2009-2018 was about 0.93°C and for the past five years, 2014-2018, was 1.04°C above the pre-industrial baseline.


“These are more than just numbers,” said WMO Deputy Secretary-General Elena Manaenkova.

“Every fraction of a degree of warming makes a difference to human health and access to food and fresh water, to the extinction of animals and plants, to the survival of coral reefs and marine life. It makes a difference to economic productivity, food security, and to the resilience of our infrastructure and cities. It makes a difference to the speed of glacier melt and water supplies, and the future of low-lying islands and coastal communities. Every extra bit matters,” said Ms Manaenkova.

The WMO report adds to the authoritative scientific evidence that will inform UN climate change negotiations from 2-14 December in Katowice, Poland. The key objective of the meeting is to adopt the implementation guidelines of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, which aims to hold the global average temperature increase to as close as possible to 1.5°C.

The IPCC report on Global Warming of 1.5°C said that this target was physically possible but would require unprecedented changes in our lifestyle, energy and transport systems. It showed how keeping temperature increases below 2°C would reduce the risks to human well-being, ecosystems and sustainable development.

National meteorological and hydrological services have been contributing to national climate assessments. A new U.S. federal report detailed how climate change is affecting the environment, agriculture, energy, land and water resources, transportation, and human health and welfare, with a risk that it will lead to growing losses to American infrastructure and property and impede the rate of economic growth over this century.

A UK assessment published 26 November warned summer temperatures could be up to 5.4°C hotter and summer rainfall could decrease by up to 47% by 2070, and sea levels in London could rise by 1.15m by 2100. A Swiss report on climate scenarios released on 13 November said that Switzerland is becoming hotter and drier, but will also struggle with heavier rainfall in the future and its famed ski resorts will have less snow.

“The WMO community is enhancing the translation of science into services. This will support countries in generating national climate scenarios and predictions and developing tailored climate services to reduce risks associated with climate change and increasingly extreme weather. WMO is also working to develop integrated tools to monitor and manage greenhouse gas emissions and carbon sinks,” said WMO Chief Scientist and Research Director Pavel Kabat. 

Highlights of the provisional statement on the state of the climate

Temperatures: 2018 started with a weak La Niña event, which continued until March. By October, however, sea-surface temperatures in the eastern Tropical Pacific were showing signs of a return to El Niño conditions, although the atmosphere as yet shows little response. If El Niño develops, 2019 is likely to be warmer than 2018.

Greenhouse gases: In 2017, carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide concentrations reached new highs, according to WMO Greenhouse Gas Bulletin. Data from a number of locations, including Mauna Loa (Hawaii) and Cape Grim (Tasmania) indicate that they continued to increase in 2018.

Oceans: The oceans absorb more than 90% of the energy trapped by greenhouse gases and 25% of anthropogenic CO2 emissions, making them warmer and more acidic. For each 3-month period until September 2018, ocean heat content was the highest or second highest on record. Global Mean Sea Level from January to July 2018 was around 2 to 3 mm higher than the same period in 2017.

Sea ice: Arctic sea-ice extent was well below average throughout 2018 with record-low levels in the first two months of the year. The annual maximum occurred in mid-March and was the third lowest on record. The minimum extent in September was the 6th smallest on record, meaning that all 12 smallest September extents have been in the past 12 years. Antarctic sea-ice extent was also well below average throughout 2018. The annual minimum extent occurred in late February and was ranked as one of the two lowest extents.

Extreme Weather

Tropical Storms:  The number of tropical cyclones was above average in all four Northern Hemisphere basins, with 70 reported by 20 November, compared to the long-term average of 53, leading to many casualties. The Northeast Pacific basin was especially active, with an Accumulated Cyclone Energy that was the highest since reliable satellite records began.

Two of the strongest tropical cyclones were Mangkhut, which impacted the Philippines, Hong Kong SAR and China, and Yutu, which brought devastation in the Mariana Islands. Jebi was the strongest typhoon to hit Japan since 1993, Son-Tinh caused flooding in Viet Nam and Laos, whilst Soulik contributed to flooding on the Korean peninsula. Hurricanes Florence and Michael were associated with huge economic damage and considerable loss of life in the United States. Gita, in the South Pacific, was the most intense and most expensive cyclone to ever hit Tonga.

Floods and rainfall: In August, the southwest Indian state of Kerala suffered the worst flooding since the 1920s, displacing more than 1.4 million people from their homes and affecting more than 5.4 million. Large parts of western Japan experienced destructive flooding in late June and early July, killing at least 230 people and destroying thousands of homes. Flooding affected many parts of east Africa in March and April. This included Kenya and Somalia, which had previously been suffering from severe drought, as well as Ethiopia and northern and central Tanzania.  An intense low-pressure system in the Mediterranean Sea in late October brought flooding, high winds and loss of life.

Heatwaves and drought: Large parts of Europe experienced exceptional heat and drought through the late spring and summer of 2018, leading to wildfires in Scandinavia. In July and August, there were numerous record high temperatures north of the Arctic Circle, and record long runs of warm temperatures., including 25 consecutive days above 25 °C in Helsinki (Finland). Parts of Germany had a long spell of days above 30°C, whilst a heatwave in France was associated with a number of deaths.  It was also an exceptionally warm and dry period in the United Kingdom and Ireland. A short but intense heatwave affected Spain and Portugal in early August.

Dry conditions were especially persistent in Germany, the Czech Republic, western Poland, the Netherlands, Belgium and parts of France. The Rhine approached record low flows by mid-October, seriously disrupting river transport.

Eastern Australia experienced significant drought during 2018, especially New South Wales and southern Queensland, with much of the region receiving less than half its average rainfall for the period from January to September.  Severe drought affected Uruguay, and northern and central Argentina, in late 2017 and early 2018, leading to heavy agricultural losses.

Both Japan and the Republic of Korea saw new national heat records (41.1 °C and 41.0°C respectively.)

Oman reported one of the highest known minimum overnight temperature of 42.6 °C in June. Algeria saw a new national of 51.3 °C in July.

Cold and snow: One of the most significant cold outbreaks of recent years affected Europe in late February and early March.

Wildfires: Major wildfires affected Athens (Greece) on 23 July, with many fatalities. British Columbia in Canada broke its record for the most area burned in a fire season for the second successive year. California suffered devastating wildfires, with November’s Camp Fire being the deadliest fire in over a century for the U.S.A.


Other Impacts
The provisional statement contained details of impacts of climate change, based on contributions from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), International Organization for Migration (IOM), UN Environment Programme (UNEP), UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC), UN High Commission for Refugees UNHCR) and World Food Programme (WFP). This section will be expanded in the final statement, to be released in March 2019.

Exposure of agriculture sectors to climate extremes is threatening to reverse gains made in ending malnutrition. New evidence shows a rise in world hunger after a prolonged decline. In 2017, the number of undernourished people was estimated to have increased to 821 million, according The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2018, by to FAO, WFP, the International Fund for Agricultural Development, the UN Children’s Fund and the World Health Organization. Africa is the region where climate events had the biggest impact on acute food insecurity and malnutrition in 2017, affecting 59 million people in 24 countries and requiring urgent humanitarian action. Much of the vulnerability to climate variability is associated with the dryland farming and pastoral rangeland systems supporting 70–80% of the continent’s rural population.

Out of the 17.7 million Internally Displaced Persons tracked by the IOM, 2.3 million people were displaced due to disasters linked to weather and climate events as of September 2018. In Somalia, some 642 000 new internal displacements were recorded between January and July 2018 by UNHCR, with flooding the primary reason for displacement (43%), followed by drought (29%), and conflict (26%).

UN agencies including UNESCO-IOC and UNEP are tracking environmental impacts associated with climate change include coral bleaching, reduced levels of oxygen in the oceans, loss of “Blue Carbon” associated with coastal ecosystems such as mangroves and salt marshes. Climate change also exposes peatlands currently protected by permafrost to thawing and possible increased methane emissions and loss of carbon, and the associated sea-level rise increases the risks of coastal erosion and salination of freshwater peatlands.

Attachments:

  • World Meteorological Organisation
    Web page
    WMO Provisional Statement
  • World Meteorological Organisation
    Web page
    Key Climate Indicators Table
  • World Meteorological Organisation
    Web page
    Graphics on the State of the Global Climate in 2018

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.

Blair Trewin is a scientific coordinator of the World Meteorological Organisation's state of the climate statement

It was a year of extremes.

The Northern Hemisphere had one of its most active tropical cyclone seasons on record, northern Europe had an exceptionally hot and dry summer, and there were destructive floods in Japan and southwest India, and much of eastern Australia was badly affected by drought.

Last updated: 29 Nov 2018 4:46pm
Declared conflicts of interest:
None declared.
Dr Andrew King is Climate Extremes Research Fellow at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science, University of Melbourne.

2018 is likely to be the world's fourth hottest year marking another extremely hot year for the globe of about 1°C warmer than pre-industrial levels. In 2018 we saw more heat records tumble around the world and notable heatwaves across much of the Northern Hemisphere in June and July. In many ways what we've seen in 2018 is what we've come to expect in a world of 1°C of human-caused climate change and rising. Given our rate of global warming, due to our continued greenhouse gas emissions, we expect to see many more hot records than cold records around the world, as has been observed in 2018.

This year also marked the release of the IPCC's special report on 1.5°C global warming, highlighting the need for rapid action and the consequences of failing to limit global warming to very low levels. We're already well on the way to 1.5°C global warming and, without drastic reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, we can expect some of the extreme weather we've seen this year to be considered pretty tame relative to our future extremes.

Last updated: 29 Nov 2018 4:44pm
Declared conflicts of interest:
None declared.
Ian Lowe is Emeritus professor of science, technology and society at Griffith University, Qld and former President of the Australian Conservation Foundation.

This report, warning of accelerating climate change and more frequent extreme weather, comes in the week when temperatures in north Queensland passed 40°C, more than 100 bushfires burned across Queensland, and Sydney was brought to a halt by a torrential downpour. The WMO report documents all the trends that climate scientists have been warning about for thirty years: increasing average temperatures, sea level rise, ocean acidification, glacier melting and more extreme weather events. We can no longer avoid the need to reduce rapidly the human contribution to climate change. 

As the WMO report says, we are not on track to meet the Paris targets. If current trends continue, we could see temperature increases of 3°C - 5°C by the end of this century. That would be catastrophic.

We urgently need to upgrade our national response to climate change. That means setting a serious target for greenhouse gas reduction from the electricity industry, 60-80 per cent by 2030, as well as developing plans for the other important sectors: agriculture, transport and manufacturing. It also means that it would be morally indefensible, and economically irresponsible, to proceed with the current plans to expand coal mining in the Galilee Basin.

Last updated: 29 Nov 2018 4:44pm
Declared conflicts of interest:
None declared.
Dr Liz Hanna is an Honorary Senior Fellow from the Climate Change Institute at The Australian National University (ANU)

I urge Australian politicians to stop acting as climate change ostriches. Putting their collective heads in the sand will not make it go away. It makes matters worse, and further threatens lives and Australia’s chances of future prosperity.

The first ten months of 2018 could be described as the world’s climate on steroids, wreaking havoc across the world, continuing the relentless march of setting new temperature extremes, rainfall records, increases in severe Tropical Cyclones, droughts, fires and sea level rise.

Climate change can be linked to the deepening consequences, the rising human toll, loss of human lives and livelihoods, and further erosion of our children’s future.

This WMO report warns us that Australia’s climate mayhem, which saw last summer’s extreme heat and drought conditions across NSW and QLD, or the current wild weather stretching form Cairns down to the NSW mid coast, are not isolated events. This pattern is occurring all over the globe. No one can continue to pretend this is 'normal variability'.

I have also co-authored a report released today in the Medical Journal of Australia clearly stating that Australia’s policy vacuum on climate is threatening Australian lives.

Last updated: 29 Nov 2018 4:43pm
Declared conflicts of interest:
None declared.
Associate Professor Matt McDonald is a Reader in International Relations from the School of Political Science and International Studies at the University of Queensland (UQ)

This report is significant for its timing. While confirming ongoing trends identified elsewhere, this report coincides with the US Government’s dire climate assessment forecast released this week, significant natural disasters (forest fires) in the USA and Australia, and growing perceptions of policy impasse or even regressive energy and climate policy in states such as the USA and Australia.

For Australia, the implications of continued temperature rises are well known. But this may be yet another development that heaps pressure on a government with limited credibility on climate policy, and one increasingly seen as out of step with the concerns of the international community, the electorate and even moderate elements within the Government itself.

Last updated: 29 Nov 2018 4:42pm
Declared conflicts of interest:
None declared.
Professor Andrew Blakers is the Director of the Centre for Sustainable Energy Systems at the Australian National University

Australia is on track to greatly exceed its Paris climate commitments. The Federal Government is pushing back against renewable energy at a political level, but under the surface Australia is building 5 Gigawatts per year of wind and solar PV, according to data from the Clean Energy Regulator. This is four-to-five times faster per capita than Europe, China or the US.

The private sector is building wind and solar PV because it is cheaper than coal and gas. This is pushing the amount of coal power down, which will start to be very noticeable from 2019. Deep electrification of the entire energy system would allow fossil fuels to be eliminated from Australia, which would reduce total Australian emissions by 85 per cent. This can be achieved by 2058 at the current build-rate of PV and wind. Doubling the build rate to 10 Gigawatts per year brings forward the fossil fuel end date to 2038. This would not be difficult considering that Australia tripled its build rate in recent years.

State and Federal governments have an important role in facilitating the extra storage and transmission required to support rapid deployment of solar PV and wind.

Last updated: 29 Nov 2018 4:41pm
Declared conflicts of interest:
None declared.
Professor John Quiggin is an Australian Laureate Fellow in Economics at the University of Queensland

The WMO report shows, at a global level, what is obviously true in Australia. The climate is warming with catastrophic effects already evident.

Meanwhile, the national government has spent the last five years tearing down the limited progress made by its predecessors. We must and will decarbonise the economy but the cost of doing this will be greatly increased by years of inaction and even outright vandalism.

Last updated: 29 Nov 2018 4:40pm
Declared conflicts of interest:
None declared.
Professor John Boland is from the School of Information Technology and Mathematical Sciences at The University of South Australia (UniSA)

Coincidentally, today I received a link to the 2018 report of The Lancet Countdown on Health and Climate Change.

Essentially, one of the main conclusions stated is that what is happening now with respect to changes in heat waves, vector-borne diseases and food security, among other things, provides a warning about the coming effects on public health if temperatures continue to rise.

Trends in the impacts of climate change, exposures and vulnerabilities translate into an unacceptable level of risk to health.  The UN emissions gap report shows that CO2 emissions are rising for the first time in four years.

Previous warnings about the impacts of climate change seem to have largely fallen on deaf ears. There are certainly climate change deniers, but even many not in that cohort do not seem to understand the gravity of the situation, so hopefully knowledge of the threats to public health might change that.

Last updated: 29 Nov 2018 4:39pm
Declared conflicts of interest:
None declared.

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