New Delhi, Dec 2 (IANS) Climate change continued its relentless march in 2020, which is on track to be one of the three warmest years on record. 2011-2020 will be the warmest decade on record, with the warmest six years all being since 2015, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said on Wednesday.
The report has implications for people living in India with the seventh longest coastline in Asia to the tune of 7,500 km.
Ocean heat is at record levels and more than 80 per cent of the global ocean experienced a marine heatwave at some time in 2020, with widespread repercussions for marine ecosystems already suffering from more acidic waters due to carbon dioxide (CO2) absorption, according to the provisional WMO report on the State of the Global Climate in 2020.
The report, which is based on contributions of dozens of international organisations and experts, shows how high-impact events, including extreme heat, wildfires and floods, as well as the record-breaking Atlantic hurricane season, affected millions of people, compounding threats to human health and security and economic stability posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Despite the COVID-19 lockdown, atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases continued to rise, committing the planet to further warming for many generations to come because of the long lifetime of CO2 in the atmosphere, according to the report.
“The average global temperature in 2020 is set to be about 1.2 degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial (1850-1900) level. There is at least a one in five chance of it temporarily exceeding 1.5 degrees by 2024,” said WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas.
“This year is the fifth anniversary of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. We welcome all the recent commitments by governments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions because we are currently not on track and more efforts are needed.”
“Record warm years have usually coincided with a strong El Nino event, as was the case in 2016. We are now experiencing a La Nina, which has a cooling effect on global temperatures, but has not been sufficient to put a brake on this year’s heat. Despite the current La Nina conditions, this year has already shown near record heat comparable to the previous record of 2016,” said Taalas.
According to him, 2020 has, unfortunately, been yet another extraordinary year for the climate.
“We saw new extreme temperatures on land, sea and especially in the Arctic. Wildfires consumed vast areas in Australia, Siberia, the US West Coast and South America, sending plumes of smoke circumnavigating the globe. We saw a record number of hurricanes in the Atlantic, including unprecedented back-to-back category 4 hurricanes in Central America in November. Flooding in parts of Africa and South East Asia led to massive population displacement and undermined food security for millions,” he said.
The 2020 provisional State of the Global Climate report is based on temperature data from January to October. The final 2020 report will be published in March 2021.
Responding to the WMO’s report, climate scientist Anjal Prakash, who is working in south Asia for two decades, told IANS the report shows oceans and cryosphere are an important and critical component of global ecology.
For India, there are nine coastal states and two Union Territories that has a population of about 560 mn.
In 2014, around 177mn people lived in coastal districts and 0.44mn lived in island territories in India which are considered to be at a greater risk based on the report.
On changing nature of cryosphere, one of the direct implications is on the Hindu Kush Himalayan regions that are extremely susceptible to temperature increase.
Under a 1.5 degrees Celsius global warming scenario, the areas are projected to warm up by more than 2 degrees on average by the end of this century.
“At higher altitudes this warming will be even more marked, due to elevation dependent warming. A 2 degrees Celsius global warming scenario could lead to a warming of around 2.7 degrees in glaciated river basins.
“Currently, more likely climate change scenarios, specific for these river basins, suggest regional temperature increases between 3.5 and 6 degrees by 2100,” he said.
A pertinent question is what could be done?
“First and foremost, we must change our approach to build. Our infrastructure must be climate resilient. In climate terms, we call it transformative adaptation which is incremental adaptation and requires system-wide changes or changes in more than one system. In the present case, the planning, implementing and monitoring process must be climate resilient and a systemic overhaul is necessary,” Prakash added.
Britain-based Christian Aid’s climate change lead, Kat Kramer, told IANS: “This report is a sobering reminder that despite Covid-19, climate change continues to rumble on, causing mayhem around the world.
“Although the pandemic will have been the biggest concern to many people in the developed world in 2020, for millions in climate vulnerable places, the climate emergency remains the biggest threat and sadly there is no simple vaccine to fix the climate. But keeping fossil fuels in the ground would be a good start.”
The WMO report says the high impact global events include floods.
In South Asia, India experienced one of the two wettest monsoon seasons since 1994, August was the wettest month on record for Pakistan, and widespread flooding was observed throughout the region, including Bangladesh, Nepal and Myanmar.