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World Meteorological Organization Sends Warning Ahead of COP26

tanker ice warming
Public domain / Pixabay

Published Oct 26, 2021 9:24 PM by The Maritime Executive

As the world gathers in Glasgow, Scotland for the next United Nations climate change conference (COP26), the UN’s World Meteorological Organization (WMO) has warned the world is “way off track” in slowing down GHG emissions.  

This is because the abundance of heat-trapping GHG in the atmosphere once again reached a new record last year, with the annual rate of increase above the 2011-2020 average. Notably, the economic slowdown from COVID-19 did not have any discernible impact on the atmospheric levels of GHG emissions and their growth rates, although there was a temporary decline in new emissions.

WMO GHG Bulletin shows that concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2), the most important GHG, reached 413.2 parts per million in 2020 - nearly 150 percent of the pre-industrial level. The last time the Earth experienced a comparable concentration of CO2 was 3-5 million years ago, when the temperature was 2-3°C warmer and sea level was 30-60 feet higher than today. 

The concentration of methane (CH4) - a far more powerful greenhouse gas - has reached 262 percent of the levels seen in 1750, when human industry started disrupting Earth’s natural equilibrium. 

“The GHG Bulletin contains a stark, scientific message for climate change negotiators at COP26. At the current rate of increase in GHG concentrations, we will see a temperature increase by the end of this century far in excess of the Paris Agreement targets of 1.5 to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels,” said Prof. Petteri Taalas, WMO Secretary General.

This cautionary message comes as world leaders, civil society and media are set to assemble in Glasgow, Scotland to discuss progress on the Paris Agreement and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. Concerns over rising temperatures have prompted many countries to set detailed timetables for decarbonization, and it is hoped that COP26 will see an increase in commitments. 

WMO notes that as long as emissions continue, global temperature will continue to rise. In fact, given the long life of CO2, the temperature level already observed will persist even if emissions are rapidly reduced to net zero. Alongside rising temperatures, this means more weather extremes, including intense heat and rainfall, ice melt, sea-level rise and ocean acidification, accompanied by far-reaching socioeconomic impacts.

Roughly half of the CO2 emitted by human activities today remains in the atmosphere with the other half taken up by oceans and land ecosystems. Concerns are mounting that the ability of land ecosystems and oceans to act as “sinks” may become less effective in the future, thus reducing their ability to absorb CO2 and act as a buffer against larger temperature increases.