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COP26: Breakdown of ‘State of Climate 2021’ Report

Updated: Nov 16, 2021

Euan Cook breaks down the World Meteorological Organisation’s (WMO) ‘State of Climate 2021’ report, designed to inform world leaders at the COP26 conference about the globe’s climate emergency.

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The World Meteorological Organisation’s (WMO) ‘State of Climate 2021’ report combines scientific advice from multiple United Nations agencies, forming the backbone of the COP26 conference and the incentive for world nations to act immediately on climate change.

With the WMO reporting that the past seven years have been the warmest on record, how were participating nations during COP26 informed about the globe’s current trajectory? Here's a breakdown of the data shared at the history-defining climate conference.

Global Warming

Levels of carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N20) in the atmosphere were recorded at 149%, 262%, and 123% respectively, compared to pre-industrial emissions. In turn, the global mean temperature for 2021 is approximately 1.1 degrees Celsius warmer than before the Industrial Revolution.

However, 2021 saw the atmospheric phenomena known as La Niña: strong winds blowing warm water across the Pacific Ocean, giving rise to colder water and effectively cooling the planet. Despite the last significant La Niña occurring ten years prior, 2021 was still on average 0.18 to 0.26 degrees Celsius warmer, proving an increasing global warming trend despite these anomalies.

Oceanic Disturbances

The ocean absorbs roughly 23% of annual emissions of anthropogenic CO2, and thus has become more acidic. The ocean’s capacity to absorb CO2 has significantly decreased due to low pH levels, thus warming the upper-2000m depth.

The mean global sea level rise was 2.1mm per year between 1993 and 2002. However, 2013 to 2021 saw a worrying average of 4.4mm per year. This is partly due to a mass loss from North American glaciers accelerating over the last two decades, nearly doubling in melting rate.

The Impact on Society

These damaging changes to our climate have led to damaging socio-economic and environmental impacts. Flash floods in China, for example, were linked to more than 302 deaths in 2021, with reported economic losses of $17.7 billion, proving that both human livelihoods and lives themselves are at stake.

Scorching temperatures have devastated the south-central British Columbia town of Lytton, which was destroyed by a scorching 49.6 degrees Celsius on 29 June 2021. In California, Death Valley exceeded 54.4 degrees Celsius on 9 July, consequently fuelling the Dixie Fire that burned down 390,000 hectares by 7 October. Not only was California subject to the highest recorded temperature in the world, but also was witness to the state’s largest single fire on record.

Moreover, January 2020 to August 2021 was the driest on record for the southwestern United States, with forecasted wheat and canola crop production for Canada dropping to 30% to 40% below 2020 levels. Therefore, a subsequent 19% increase in global hunger during the COVID-19 pandemic has hit those already suffering the most from food crises, with 26 million more people undernourished from 2020 to 2021.

With the alarming evidence displayed at COP26, it is down to world leaders to enact policies that will ensure a united front against climate change.

“At the current rate of the increase in greenhouse gas 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. COP26 must be a turning point for people and planet.” – Petteri Taalas, World Meteorological Organisation.

Article on a similar topic: COP26 Update: The Midway Point


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