According to the new United in Science 2021 report, the COVID-19 pandemic has not slowed the advance of climate change, as carbon dioxide emissions are rapidly recovering after a temporary dip from virus-related economic downturn.
The report found that concentrations of major greenhouse gases - CO2, methane and nitrous oxide - continued to increase in 2020 and the first half of 2021, reaching record levels.
Based on the World Metrological Organisation's (WMO) findings, there is now a 40 per cent possibility that the average global temperature in one of the next five years will be at least 1.5°C warmer than pre-industrial levels - meaning the Paris Agreement would not reach its desired outcome of keeping global warming "preferably to 1.5°C".
The rise in global temperature is also fuelling devastating extreme weather, causing 103 billion potential work hours to be lost through heat alone.
“This report is clear. Time is running out,” said UN secretary-general António Guterres.
“This is a critical year for climate action. This report by the United Nations and global scientific partner organizations provides a holistic assessment of the most recent climate science.
"The result is an alarming appraisal of just how far off course we are.”
Short-term targets such as reducing atmospheric methane (CH4) could support the achievement of the Paris Agreement.
However, the report found it would not replace the need for strong, rapid and sustained reductions in CO2 and other greenhouse gases.
Further, average global temperatures for the past five years are the highest on record.
“We are still significantly off-schedule to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement,” said Guterres.
“This year has seen fossil fuel emissions bounce back, greenhouse gas concentrations continuing to rise and severe human-enhanced weather events that have affected health, lives and livelihoods on every continent.
"Unless there are immediate, rapid and large-scale reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, limiting warming to 1.5°C will be impossible, with catastrophic consequences for people and the planet on which we depend.”
The report is the third in a series, with numerous agencies such as the WMO, UN Environment Programme (UNEP), the World Health Organization (WHO), the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the Global Carbon Project (GCP), the World Climate Research Programme (WCRP) and the Met Office (UK) involved in presenting the scientific data.
“Throughout the pandemic we have heard that we must build back better to set humanity on a more sustainable path and to avoid the worst impacts of climate change on society and economies,” WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas said.
"This report shows that so far in 2021 we are not going in the right direction.”
Preliminary estimates show that global emissions in the power and industry sectors were already at the same level or higher in January-July 2021 than the same period in 2019.
“We need a breakthrough on protecting people and their livelihoods, with at least half of all public climate finance committed to building resilience and helping people adapt,” said Guterres.
"And we need much greater solidarity, including full delivery of the long-standing climate finance pledge to help developing countries take climate action.
"There is no alternative if we are to achieve a safer, more sustainable and prosperous future for all.”
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