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2020 records one of three warmest years ever: WMO

World facing catastrophic temperature rises this century, UN chief says

A worker lights a gas warmer at Ice Castles in North Woodstock, New Hampshire, on Thursday. (AFP-Yonhap)
A worker lights a gas warmer at Ice Castles in North Woodstock, New Hampshire, on Thursday. (AFP-Yonhap)
The year 2020 was one of the three warmest years ever on record, the World Meteorological Organization, a world weather body under the United Nations, said Thursday.

“The confirmation by the World Meteorological Organization that 2020 was one of the warmest years on record is yet another stark reminder of the relentless pace of climate change, which is destroying lives and livelihoods across our planet,” said UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.

The UN chief pointed out that the world is already facing unprecedented weather extremes in every region and on every continent.

“We are headed for a catastrophic temperature rise of 3 to 5 degrees Celsius this century,” he said. “Making peace with nature is the defining task of the 21st century. It must be the top priority for everyone, everywhere.”

The decade 2011-2020 had also been the warmest ever, the WMO explained, showing the ongoing long-term climate change.

The warmest six years have all occurred since 2015, with 2016, 2019 and 2020 being the top three. The differences in average global temperatures among the three warmest years were indistinguishably small, the world weather body said.

The average global temperature in 2020 was about 14.9 C, which is 1.2 C above the preindustrial (1850-1900) level.

La Nina, a naturally occurring cooling climate phenomenon, put a brake on the heat only at the end of the year, the WMO explained.

“It is remarkable that temperatures in 2020 were virtually on a par with 2016, when we saw one of the strongest El Nino warming events on record,” said WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas. “This is a clear indication that the global signal from human-induced climate change is now as powerful as the force of nature.”

The La Nina event, which began in late 2020, is expected to continue into early to mid-2021, according to the weather body.

As La Nina and El Nino’s effects on average global temperatures are typically strongest in the second year of the event, the extent to which the ongoing cooling effects of La Nina in 2021 may temporarily weaken the overall warming trend during this year remains to be seen, according to the WMO.

The 2015 Paris Agreement, signed by 195 nations at the time, aims to hold global warming at well below 2 C above the preindustrial level while pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 C.

At 1.2 C above the preindustrial level, last year‘s global average temperature was already close to the lower limit of increase that the Paris Agreement hopes to avert, the WMO said.

According to the WMO’s Global Annual to Decadal Climate Update, there is at least a 1 in 5 chance of the average global temperature temporarily exceeding the cap of 1.5 C by 2024.

“WMO has repeatedly stressed that the industrial and economic slowdown from COVID-19 is not a substitute for sustained and coordinated climate action,” Taalas said.

The WMO chief pointed out that due to the extremely long lifetime of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, the drop in emissions in 2020 from lockdowns and social distancing is not expected to reduce CO2 atmospheric concentrations, which are the driving forces of rising global temperatures.

“Whilst COVID-19 has caused a severe international health and economic crisis, failure to tackle climate change may threaten human well-being, ecosystems and economies for centuries,” he said. “Governments should use the opportunity to embrace climate action as part of recovery programs and ensure that we grow back better.”

By Kan Hyeong-woo (hwkan@heraldcorp.com)
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