Climate change has not stopped for COVID19. Greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere are at record levels and continue to increase, with emissions heading in the direction of pre-pandemic levels.
The world is set to see its warmest five years on record – in a trend which is likely to continue – and is not on track to meet agreed targets to keep global temperature increase well below 2 °C or at 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels.
These are some of the findings of United in Science 2020, a new multi-agency report from leading science organizations. The report has been compiled by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) under the direction of the United Nations Secretary-General to bring together the latest climate science related updates from a group of key global partner organizations.
Through the UN Environment Programme, UNEP DTU Partnership has been lead author on a chapter detailing the findings of the Emissions Gap Reports. The chapter highlights the need for immediate transformational action if global targets are to be met.
“We need science, solidarity and solutions”
The United in Science Report shows the increasing and irreversible impacts of climate change, which affects glaciers, oceans, nature, economies and living conditions. It also documents how COVID-19 has impeded our ability to monitor these changes through the global observing system.
“This has been an unprecedented year for people and planet. The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted lives worldwide. At the same time, the heating of our planet and climate disruption has continued apace,” UN Secretary-General António Guterres says in the foreword, and continues:
“Never before has it been so clear that we need long-term, inclusive, clean transitions to tackle the climate crisis and achieve sustainable development. We must turn the recovery from the pandemic into a real opportunity to build a better future. We need science, solidarity and solutions.”
The latest science on climate change
The United in Science 2020 report, the second in a series, presents the very latest scientific data and findings related to climate change to inform global policy and action.
It is coordinated by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), with input from the Global Carbon Project, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO, the UN Environment Programme and the UK Met Office.
Greenhouse Gas Concentrations in the Atmosphere (World Meteorological Organization)
Atmospheric CO2 concentrations showed no signs of peaking in 2020 and have continued to increase to new records. As reductions in emissions due to COVID-19 will only slightly impact the rate of increase in the atmospheric concentrations, sustained reductions in emissions to net zero are necessary to stabilize climate change.
Global Fossil CO2 emissions (Global Carbon Project)
CO2 emissions in 2020 will fall by an estimated 4% to 7% in 2020 due to COVID-19 confinement policies. The exact decline will depend on the continued trajectory of the pandemic and government responses to address it.
During peak lockdown in early April 2020, the daily global fossil CO2 emissions dropped by an unprecedented 17% compared to 2019. Even so, emissions were still equivalent to 2006 levels, highlighting both the steep growth over the past 15 years and the continued dependence on fossil sources for energy.
Emissions Gap (UN Environment Programme and UNEP DTU Partnership)
Transformational action can no longer be postponed if the Paris Agreement targets are to be met.
The Emissions Gap Report 2019 showed that the cuts in global emissions required per year from 2020 to 2030 are close to 3% for a 2 °C target and more than 7% per year on average for the 1.5 °C goal of the Paris Agreement.
It is still possible to bridge the emissions gap, but this will require urgent and concerted action by all countries and across all sectors. A substantial part of the short-term potential can be realized through scaling up existing, well-proven policies, for instance on renewables and energy efficiency, low carbon transportation means and a phase-out of coal.
Looking beyond the 2030 timeframe, new technological solutions and gradual change in consumption patterns are needed at all levels. Both technically and economically feasible solutions already exist.
State of Global Climate (WMO and UK’s Met Office)
The average global temperature for 2016–2020 is expected to be the warmest on record, about 1.1 °C above 1850-1900, and 0.24°C warmer than the global average temperature for 2011-2015.
Furthermore, a clear fingerprint of human-induced climate change has been identified in many extreme weather and climate events with major negative impacts around the world.
The Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change)
Human-induced climate change is affecting life-sustaining systems, from the top of the mountains to the depths of the oceans, with cascading effects for ecosystems and human security.
The global ocean has warmed unabated since 1970 and has taken up more than 90% of the excess heat in the climate system. Global mean sea-level is rising, with acceleration in recent decades due to increasing rates of ice loss from the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets, as well as continued glacier mass loss and ocean thermal expansion. The rate of global mean sea-level rise is unprecedented over the last century
Climate and Water Resources (WMO)
By 2050, the number of people at risk of floods will increase from its current level of 1.2 billion to 1.6 billion. In the early to mid-2010s, 1.9 billion people, or 27% of the global population, lived in potential severely water-scarce areas. In 2050, this number will increase to 2.7 to 3.2 billion people.
Climate change is projected to increase the number of water-stressed regions and exacerbate shortages in already water-stressed regions.
Earth System Observations during COVID-19 (Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO and WMO)
The COVID-19 pandemic has produced significant impacts on the global observing systems, which in turn have affected the quality of forecasts and other weather, climate and ocean-related services.
The impacts on climate change monitoring are long-term. They are likely to prevent or restrict measurement campaigns for the mass balance of glaciers or the thickness of permafrost, usually conducted at the end of the thawing period. The overall disruption of observations will introduce gaps in the historical time series of Essential Climate Variables needed to monitor climate variability and change and associated impacts.