UN Climate Report Warns Our Planet Is on the Edge of Collapse

April 20th, 2021 - by David Knowles / Yahoo News & The World Meteorological Association

As Biden Prepares for Climate Summit, UN Says the World Is ‘On the Verge of the Abyss’

David Knowles / Yahoo News

(April 19, 2021) — Just days before President Biden kicks off a climate summit with world leaders, the United Nations World Meteorological Organization released a report Monday warning that “time is fast running out” to keep global temperatures in check. [See below — EAW]

Titled “State of the Global Climate 2020,” the report finds that concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere continued to climb in 2020, despite lockdowns imposed to slow the spread of COVID-19. 

Last year, the report notes, was the third warmest on record, worsening the melting of glaciers and sea ice, the acidification of the world’s oceans and the severity of wildfires and hurricanes. 

A key goal of the Paris Agreement on climate change is to keep global temperatures from rising above 1.5 degrees Celsius, and the UN report warns that doing so will require a massive effort from the governments of the world. 

“The data in this report show that the global mean temperature for 2020 was around 1.2 degrees Celsius warmer than pre-industrial times, meaning that time is fast running out to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement,” UN Secretary-General António Guterres said in a foreword to the report. “We need to do more, and faster, now.”

In an interview with Reuters, Guterres was even more direct, saying, “We are on the verge of the abyss.”

On Thursday, Biden will host leaders from around the world for a virtual summit, which is expected to include representatives from 40 countries who are responsible for the overwhelming majority of global carbon emissions. Among the leaders invited to the summit are Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping. 

“The Leaders Summit on Climate will underscore the urgency — and the economic benefits — of stronger climate action. It will be a key milestone on the road to the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) this November in Glasgow,” the White House said in a statement. 

With greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and methane continuing to build up in the Earth’s atmosphere, the planet has begun to experience the ravages of climate change predicted for decades. Sea levels continue to rise as polar ice caps and glaciers continue to melt.

In the US in 2020, wildfires set records, as did the number of hurricanes making landfall. Heat waves on land, as well as in the oceans, increasingly threaten life on Earth. If a concerted global effort isn’t mounted to bend the current trend line, an estimated one-third of all plants and animals on the planet will be at risk of mass extinction in the next 50 years, according to a 2020 study conducted by the University of Arizona. 

“In recent years, scientists have underscored the need to limit planetary warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius in order to stave off the worst impacts of climate change,” the White House said in its statement. “A key goal of both the Leaders Summit and COP26 will be to catalyze that effort to keep that 1.5-degree goal within reach.”

At the summit, Biden is expected to announce that the US will seek to cut emissions by at least 50 percent from 2005 levels. He will also pressure other world leaders to sign on to similar pledges, though those will be nonbinding. 

While 200 nations signed onto the Paris accord, the US pulled out of the agreement under former President Donald Trump, a strident climate-change skeptic. The US and China produce the largest carbon emissions of any nations on Earth, and Biden was quick to rejoin the Paris Agreement upon being sworn in to office. But scientists have been warning that the nonbinding commitments made under the agreement will not be enough in order to keep global temperatures from rising above 1.5 degrees Celsius. 

“The worst risk is that we don’t reach 1.5 degrees as a limit, that we go over it, and that we precipitate the world into a catastrophic situation,” Guterres told Reuters. 

But the World Meteorological Organization itself acknowledged last year that keeping temperatures below the 1.5-degree threshold was increasingly unlikely. A report it issued in July stated that there was a 20 percent chance the world could see global average yearly temperatures rise above that mark in the next five years. 

State of the Global Climate 2020: Foreword

P. Taalas, Secretary-General

It has been 28 years since the World Meteorological Organization issued the first state of the climate report in 1993. The report was initiated due to the concerns raised at that time about projected climate change. While understanding of the climate system and computing power have increased since then, the basic message remains the same, and we now have 28 more years of data that show significant temperature increases over land and sea, as well as other changes, such as sea-level rise, melting of sea ice and glaciers and changes in precipitation patterns.

This underscores the robustness of climate science based on the physical laws governing the behaviour of the climate system. All key climate indicators and impact information provided in this report show relentless, continuing climate change, an increasing occurrence and intensification of high-impact events and severe losses and damages affecting people, societies and economies.

Concentrations of the major greenhouse gases continued to increase in 2019 and 2020. Globally averaged mole fractions of carbon dioxide have already exceeded 410 parts per million (ppm), and if the CO2 concentration follows the same pattern as in previous years, it could reach or exceed 414 ppm in 2021.

Stabilizing global mean temperature at 1.5 °C to 2 °C above pre-industrial levels by the end of this century will require an ambitious reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, which must begin to occur during this decade.

I take this opportunity to congratulate the experts and the lead author, who compiled this report using physical data analyses and impact assessments. I thank all the contributors, particularly WMO Member National Meteorological and Hydrological Services and Regional Climate Centres and our sister United Nations Agencies for their collaboration and input on this report. The report is intended to help our organizations to update world leaders and citizens on the latest information about our Earth system’s behaviour and climate change impacts. WMO remains committed to supporting this publication and communicating it widely for this purpose.

Foreword by the United Nations Secretary-General

A. Guterres, United Nations Secretary-General

2020 was an unprecedented year for people and planet: a global pandemic on a scale not seen for more than a century; global temperatures higher than in a millennium; and the highest concentration of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere for over 3 million years.

While many will remember 2020 most poignantly for how the COVID-19 pandemic affected the world, this report explains that, for many across the planet, especially in developing countries, 2020 was also a year of extreme weather and climate disruption, fuelled by anthropogenic climate change, affecting lives, destroying livelihoods and forcing many millions from their homes.

This report also demonstrates the impact of this warming, both on the planet’s ecosystems and on individuals and communities, through superstorms, flooding, heatwaves, droughts and wild res. We know what needs to be done to cut emissions and adapt to climate impacts now and in the future. We have the technology to succeed. But current levels of climate ambition and action are significantly short of what is needed.

We know that to avert the worst impacts of climate change, we must keep global temperatures to within 1.5 °C of the pre-industrial baseline. That means reducing global green- house gas emissions by 45 per cent from 2010 levels by 2030 and reaching net zero emissions by 2050. The data in this report show that the global mean temperature for 2020 was around 1.2 °C warmer than pre-industrial times, meaning that time is fast running out to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement. We need to do more, and faster, now.

This year is pivotal. At the United Nations climate conference, COP26, in November, we need to demonstrate that we are taking and planning bold action on mitigation and adaptation. This entails scaled-up financial flows from developed to developing countries. And it means radical changes in all financial institutions, public and private, to ensure that they fund sustainable and resilient development for all and move away from a grey and inequitable economy.

As the world focuses on COVID-19 recovery, let us use the opportunity to get back on track to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals and reduce the threat from climate change. I call on everyone — from governments, civil society and business to individual citizens — to work to make 2021 count.


•  Concentrations of the major greenhouse gasses, CO2, CH4, and N2) continued to increase despite the temporary reduction in emissions in 2020 related to measures taken in response to COVID-19.

•  2020 was one of the three warmest years on record. The past six years, including 2020, have been the six warmest years on record. Temperatures reached 38.0 °C at Verkhoyansk, Russian Federation on 20 June, the highest recorded temperature anywhere north of the Arctic Circle.

•  The trend in sea-level rise is accelerating. In addition, ocean heat storage and acidification are increasing, diminishing the ocean’s capacity to moderate climate change.

•  The Arctic minimum sea-ice extent in September 2020 was the second lowest on record. The sea-ice retreat in the Laptev Sea was the earliest observed in the satellite era.

•  The Antarctic mass loss trend accelerated around 2005, and currently, Antarctica loses approximately 175 to 225 Gt of ice per year.

•  The 2020 North Atlantic hurricane season was exceptionally active. Hurricanes, extreme heatwaves, severe droughts and wild res led to tens of billions of US dollars in economic losses and many deaths.

•  Some 9.8 million displacements, largely due to hydrometeorological hazards and disasters, were recorded during the first half of 2020.

•  Disruptions to the agriculture sector by COVID-19 exacerbated weather impacts along the entire food supply chain, elevating levels of food insecurity.