Four key indicators of climate change reached “alarming” record highs in 2021, the United Nations said on Wednesday, as it warned worsening climate change is poised to exact heavy financial losses, impose huge burdens of death and disease and threaten food and water security.
Greenhouse gas concentrations, sea level rise, ocean heat and ocean acidification—all key climate change indicators—hit record highs in 2021, according to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) in its annual “State of the Global Climate” report.
The report said the last seven years have been the seven warmest on record.
WMO Secretary-General Professor Petteri Taalas said it was “just a matter of time before we see another warmest year on record” and warned that sea level rise, ocean heat and ocean acidification will “continue for hundreds of years” unless humanity develops ways to remove carbon from the atmosphere.
United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said the report is “a dismal litany of humanity’s failure to tackle climate disruption” and urged governments to do more to fix the “broken” global energy system and cut greenhouse gas emissions to avert “climate catastrophe.”
Guterres proposed a five-point plan to kickstart the transition to renewable energies, including tripling private and public investment in the sector to at least $4 trillion a year, lifting intellectual property protections for renewable energy technologies—such as batteries—and transferring the technology freely around the world.
Guterres also said governments must stop the “scandal” of fossil fuel subsidies that artificially lower their prices, which he said amount to around $11 million every minute.
The report follows the latest comprehensive assessment on the field from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which formed the basis of COP26 climate negotiations and said human actions were decisively responsible for the crisis. The leading authority said “unprecedented” changes to the climate have already occurred due to human actions and some of the changes—particularly to the ocean and sea levels, which change much more slowly than the atmosphere—could last for millennia. The crisis is driving an increase in extreme weather, destabilizing food and water security, displacing millions of people, risking the spread of disease and causing billions in economic damage.
The war in Ukraine and spiking energy prices is a “wake up call,” Guterres said, urging a switch to sustainable energy sources. “Fossil fuels are a dead end — environmentally and economically,” Guterres said. “Renewables are the only path to real energy security, stable power prices and sustainable employment opportunities,” he added, calling the transformation “the peace project of the 21st century.”