United in Science Report sounds +1.5 °C Alarm

“Our world remains off track – far off track – to meet the objectives of the Paris Agreement to limit global temperature rise to 1.5 °C. If things would remain as they are, we would go up 3 to 5 degrees above the pre-industrial level,” said United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres at a press conference on 9 September to launch the 2020 United in Science report.

The United in Science 2020 report, the second in an annual series, is coordinated by WMO. This year, it includes input from the Global Carbon Project, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) of UNESCO, the UN Environment Programme and the UK Met Office. It presents the very latest scientific data and findings related to climate change to inform global policy and action.

WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas also spoke at the press conference in a virtual link-up from WMO headquarters in Geneva. He presented the key findings of the report that showed that climate change has not stopped for COVID-19. Greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere are at record levels and continue to increase. Emissions are heading in the direction of pre-pandemic levels following a temporary decline caused by the lockdown and economic slowdown. Professor Taalas also highlighted the increasing impacts of climate change, which affects glaciers, oceans, nature, economies and human living conditions and is often felt through water-related hazards like drought and flooding.

“The five-year period since the signing of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change will be the hottest on human record – with average global temperatures 1.1 °C above pre-industrial levels. The report also rings the alarm that there is a significant and growing chance of temporarily reaching the 1.5 °C threshold in the coming five years,” said Mr Guterres, citing data from the report. He launched an appeal, “We have a choice: business as usual, leading to further calamity; or we can use the recovery from COVID-19 to provide a real opportunity to put the world on a sustainable path,”

He outlined six climate-related actions to shape the recovery.

  • As we spend huge amounts of money to recover from the coronavirus, we must deliver new jobs and businesses through a clean, green transition.
  • Where taxpayers’ money is used to rescue businesses, it needs to be tied to achieving green jobs and sustainable growth.
  • Fiscal firepower must drive a shift from the grey to the green economy and make societies and people more resilient.
  • Public funds should be used to invest in the future, not the past, and flow to sustainable sectors and projects that help the environment and the climate. And so, fossil fuel subsidies must end, polluters must pay for their pollution, and no new coal power plants should be built. It is already cheaper to build new renewable energy capacity than to continue operating 39% of the world’s existing coal capacity.
  • Climate risks and opportunities must be incorporated into the financial system, as well as all aspects of public policymaking and infrastructure.
  • We need to work together as an international community.   

“As we work to tackle both the COVID-19 pandemic and the climate crisis, I urge leaders to heed the facts in this report, unite behind the science and take urgent climate action,” said Mr Guterres.

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