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Unprecedented Year for our Planet: United in Science Report 2020

This alarming news comes from the multi-organisation report United in Science 2020, compiled by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) under the direction of the United Nations Secretary-General.

COVID-19 has brought the world economy to a standstill, but it hasn’t done the same for global warming. Widespread travel restrictions and lockdown have not slowed down climate change.

On the contrary, greenhouse gas concentrations in 2020 are the highest it’s ever been and will soon be what it was before the pandemic hit.  

We are living through the hottest period on human record and conditions are not about to change. All this means is that the world is not going to meet the targets of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, which is to keep global temperature increase well below 2 °C or at 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels.

“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,” said UN Secretary-General António Guterres in his foreword.

With this report, the discussion has moved away from the possible negative effects on the environment if we don’t curb greenhouse gas emissions. This report is about clear irreversible impacts on the environment that we are already experiencing: rising sea levels, floods, droughts, wildfires, scorching temperatures, and more.  

“This report shows that whilst many aspects of our lives have been disrupted in 2020, climate change has continued unabated,” said WMO Secretary-General, Professor Petteri Taalas in his foreword.

Although emissions decreased during the peak of the pandemic lockdown, they are again within 5% of the levels of the same period in 2019.

Some key findings

Greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere are still increasing. The 2020 confinements have not had a major impact on greenhouse gas concentrations, partly because of previous emissions and the long lifetime of CO2.

Methane, which is the second most important greenhouse gas after CO2, is also still increasing. According to the report, the current levels of emissions of these two greenhouse gases are way too high to meet the targets of the Paris Agreement.

The report writers expect 2016–2020 to be the warmest on record, about 1.1 °C above pre-industrial times.

Since 2016 the Arctic sea ice extent has steadily decreased, glaciers have shrunk substantially, and sea levels have risen steadily. In addition, damage to the environment has been exacerbated by extreme weather events.

“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.

‘’In order to do that, governments need consistent and solid science, backed by the strong collaboration of scientific institutions and academia, to underpin policy decisions that can tackle the greatest challenges of our time,’’ said the U.N. Secretary-General.

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