Global carbon emissions will fall due to coronavirus, but this will not be enough to curb global warming without significant action, according to the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO).
Global carbon dioxide (CO2) levels have increased by 26 per cent since 1970, whilst the global average temperature has increased by 0.86ºC and is 1.1ºC warmer than pre-industrial levels, according to the agency.
The WMO’s Global Climate 2015-2019 report, released on Earth Day (22 April) found that the last five years were the hottest on record, and the next five years will likely set a new global mean temperature record.
All indicators – atmospheric CO2, ocean heat and acidification, sea level, glacier mass balance and Arctic and Antarctic sea ice – show that climate degradation has sped up in the past five years.
The agency states that though there have been falls in carbon emissions due to the Covid-19 pandemic, which has seen a dramatic decrease in economic activity, such a reduction is “no substitute for sustained climate action”.
WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas told a virtual press conference: “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. We need to flatten both the pandemic and climate change curves.”
“We need to show the same determination and unity against climate change as against Covid-19. We need to act together in the interests of the health and welfare of humanity not just for the coming weeks and months, but for many generations ahead.”
Further increases in global temperatures are expected to increase extreme weather incidents such as droughts, famines and floods, increasing precariousness for millions of people across the world.
Taalas continued: “Extreme weather has increased, and it will not go away because of the coronavirus. On the contrary, the pandemic exacerbates the challenge of evacuating people and keeping them safe from tropical cyclones, as we saw with Category-5 strength Harold in the South Pacific. And there is a risk that over-stretched health systems may not be able to cope with an additional burden of patients due to, for example, heatwaves.”
“Vulnerable populations in countries with weaker disaster preparedness systems face the greatest risks. Governments need to do more to strengthen warning systems to cope with multiple hazards. WMO will support those efforts.”
The agency has urged the economic recovery post-coronavirus to be built on sustainable foundations so that it can “grow back greener”.
The Green Party of England and Wales yesterday (22 April) called for the government to implement a Green New Deal to encourage a green economic recovery and tackle the climate crisis.
You can read the WMO’s report, ‘Global Climate in 2015-2019’, on the agency’s website.