4 climate crisis indicators break records in 2021

Updated on May 19, 2022 11:44 AM IST
Greenhouse gas (GHG) concentrations reached a high in 2020 when the concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) reached 413.2 parts per million (ppm) globally, or 149% of the pre-industrial level.
ByJayashree Nandi, New Delhi

Four key climate change indicators, greenhouse gas concentration, sea level rise, ocean heat and ocean acidification set new records in 2021, in a clear sign that human activities are causing planetary scale changes on land, in the ocean, and in the atmosphere, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said in its State of the Global Climate Report 2021 released Wednesday .

Greenhouse gas (GHG) concentrations reached a high in 2020 when the concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) reached 413.2 parts per million (ppm) globally, or 149% of the pre-industrial level. They continued to rise in 2021 and early 2022, with monthly average CO2 concentration at Mona Loa in Hawaii reaching 419.05 ppm in April 2021, and 420.23 ppm in April 2022, from 416.45 ppm in April 2020, the report said.

The global annual mean temperature in 2021 was around 1.11 degree C above the 1850-1900 pre-industrial average, less warm than recent years mainly due to the cooling effect of La Niña. But, the most recent seven years (2015 to 2021) were the seven warmest years on record.

Ocean heat was also set a record last year. “The upper 2000m depth of the ocean continued to warm in 2021 and it is expected that it will continue to warm in the future – a change which is irreversible on centennial to millennial time scales. All data sets agree that ocean warming rates show a particularly strong increase in the past two decades. The warmth is penetrating to ever deeper levels. Much of the ocean experienced at least one ‘strong’ marine heatwave at some point in 2021,” WMO said, adding that global mean sea level also reached a record last year after increasing at an average 4.5 mm per year over the period 2013 -2021. This is more than double the rate of rise between 1993 and 2002 when the sea level rise by 2.1 mm per year and is mainly due to the accelerated loss of ice mass from the ice sheets. “This has major implications for hundreds of millions of coastal dwellers and increases vulnerability to tropical cyclones,” WMO added.

Several regions continue to be affected by a rate of sea-level rise substantially faster than the global mean particularly Southwest Indian Ocean; Western Tropical Pacific Ocean; Southwest Pacific Ocean; North Pacific Ocean; and South Atlantic Ocean.

“It is just a matter of time before we see another warmest year on record,” WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas said in a statement on Wednesday. “Our climate is changing before our eyes. The heat trapped by human-induced greenhouse gases will warm the planet for many generations to come. Sea level rise, ocean heat and acidification will continue for hundreds of years unless means to remove carbon from the atmosphere are invented. Some glaciers have reached the point of no return and this will have long-term repercussions in a world in which more than 2 billion people already experience water stress,” he added..

In India, more than 1 lakh people were displaced in India between November and December 2021 alone due to climate related hazards, WMO said in its report. It added that India has among the highest number of people facing prolonged displacement who are not able to return to their homes after climate hazards.

WMO referred to data from the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre which cites a Ministry of Home Affairs report on a low-pressure system that brought heavy rainfall and flooding to Andhra Pradesh between 19-24 November. A total of 79,680 people were evacuated to relief centres by local authorities. Heavy rainfall and flooding in Puducherry from 19-21 November resulted in at least 2,294 new displacements according to disaster management authorities. HT reported on November 26 that parts of Peninsular India recorded exceptional amounts of rain which led to large-scale flooding over Andhra Pradesh’s Rayalaseema and Chennai. Peninsular India recorded 143.4% excess rain between November 1 and November 25 last year, leading to flooding and damage to infrastructure in the region.

Hydro-meteorological hazards continued to contribute to internal displacement last year, countries with the highest numbers of displacements recorded as of October 2021 in China (more than 1.4 million), Vietnam (more than 664 000) and the Philippines (more than 600 000), WMO said. In China, a large number of displacements were associated with extreme rainfall in Henan province in July.

WMO also flagged that many displacement situations triggered by hydrometeorological events have become prolonged for people unable to return to their former homes. At the beginning of 2021, at least 7 million people were living in internal displacement following disasters. According to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC), the largest numbers of people in this situation were in Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, followed by Ethiopia, Sudan, Bangladesh, Niger and Yemen.

“CEEW’s recently released Climate Vulnerability Index suggests that 8 out of 10 people in India reside in extremely climate-vulnerable districts; this will impact the lives, livelihoods, infrastructure and economies, triggering internal displacement. Estimates by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) suggest that 14 million people have been displaced in the last 2 decades. Climate extremities will rise exponentially in the coming decades, and will further exacerbate internal displacement across Indian districts. India needs to climate-proof its economic sectors by integrating granular information on climate risks and investing in ecosystem-based approaches to mitigate these harsh impacts and reduce internal displacements,” said Abinash Mohanty, program lead for the Council on Energy, Environment and Water.

Key findings of WMO report:

• The global mean temperature in 2021 was around 1.11°C above the 1850–1900 pre-industrial average.

• The most recent seven year (2015 to 2021) were the seven warmest years on record.

• Global mean sea level reached a new record high in 2021, rising an average of 4.5 mm per year over the period 2013–2021.

• Greenland experienced an exceptional mid-August melt event and the first-ever recorded rainfall at Summit Station, the highest point on the Greenland ice sheet at an altitude of 3 216 m.

• Exceptional heatwaves broke records across western North America and the Mediterranean. Death Valley, California reached 54.4 °C on 9 July, equalling a similar 2020 value as the highest recorded in the world since at least the 1930s, and Syracuse in Sicily reached 48.8 °C.

• Hurricane Ida was the most significant of the North Atlantic season, making landfall in Louisiana on 29 August, equalling the strongest landfall on record for the state, with economic losses in the United States estimated at US$ 75 billion.

• Deadly and costly flooding induced economic losses of US$ 17.7 billion in Henan province of China, and Western Europe experienced some of its most severe flooding on record in mid-July.

• The compounded effects of conflict, extreme weather events and economic shocks, further exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, undermined decades of progress towards improving food security globally. Hydro-meteorological hazards continued to contribute to internal displacement. The countries with the highest numbers of displacements recorded as of October 2021 were China (more than 1.4 million), Viet Nam (more than 664 000) and the Philippines (more than 600 000).

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