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expert reaction to the World Meteorological Organization’s report on the State of the Global Climate 2020

The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) has released its report on the State of the Global Climate 2020.


Dr Samantha Burgess, Deputy Director of the Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S), said:

“To understand our changing climate, we need to monitor constantly to gain an understanding of evolving trends – the yearly WMO State of the Climate report is doing exactly that and has been for 28 years. This report and the Copernicus European State of the Climate 2020 report, launched on 22nd April, provide this essential benchmark. In 2020, greenhouse gases and global temperatures continue to rise, particularly Arctic temperatures, highlighting that we need to strengthen our efforts to reduce emissions to meet the Paris Agreement targets.”


Prof Albert Klein Tank, director, Met Office Hadley Centre, said:

“With global temperatures continuing to rise taking humanity further into uncharted territory, it is clear that the best available climate science will be needed to help prevent the worst impacts of climate change while helping society adapt to the climate change that we are already committed to. Since it was formed in 1990, the Met Office Hadley Centre has created a world-leading capability for developing and applying climate science to address societal needs. The Met Office looks forward to continuing our pioneering role.” 


Prof Edward Hill CBE, Director, National Oceanography Centre, Southampton, said:

“The World Meteorological Organisations’ 2020 State of the Climate Report highlights the critical role of the ocean in taking up 90% of excess heat accumulating in the Earth system and absorbing 23% of anthropogenic CO2. The consequences include sea-level rise, marine heatwaves, ocean acidification and reducing open ocean oxygen content.  Covid has demonstrated that when significant actions are called for that affect peoples’ everyday lives, they naturally and rightly expect to scrutinise the assumptions, data and evidence upon which such decisions are based.  Crucially, the report is grounded in observational data. It specifically highlights the role of Argo profiling floats, since global coverage was achieved in 2006, in enabling routine monitoring ocean heat content and it states that comprehensive assessment of deoxygenation in the open and coastal ocean would benefit from building a consistent, quality-controlled, open-access global ocean oxygen data set.  Sustained global ocean observations are critical as called for by the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development 2021-2030.  Autonomous ocean sensing technologies have advanced significantly over the past decade and the key challenge now is to deploy at scale the sub-surface infrastructure of ocean sensors and to match the technological innovation with the business model innovation necessary to fund them sustainably.”


Dr Carlo Buontempo, Director of the Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S), said:

“According to various studies, the lockdown measures, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, led to a decrease of around 8 % in CO2 emissions for Europe in 2020. However, the State of the Climate 2020 report shows that this is not sufficient to significantly reduce the increase in greenhouse gas concentrations on a long-term basis. The continued rise of GHGs has an effect on global temperature and will accelerate climate change. The Copernicus Climate Change Service provided our monitoring data to WMO, to be included in this comprehensive report. It shows again clearly that a continuous effort is required to significantly curb the concentration of GHGs in the atmosphere and consequently reduce the changes in the global climate.”


Prof Tom Oliver, Professor of Applied Ecology, University of Reading, said:

“This latest WMO report is grim reading showing clearly how Covid-19 has compounded climate change impacts. In 2020, it led to reduced capacity to deal with plagues of locusts in East Africa, the Middle East and Pakistan; it has slowed the delivery of humanitarian assistance to the hundreds of thousands of people displaced by cyclones in the Pacific Islands, hurricanes in Central America and wildfires in the US. Animal-borne diseases like Covid have themselves been linked strongly to land use degradation, so we are seeing in real time how threats from environmental disasters combine and multiply. We are entering a dangerous new of era of interlinked environmental threats that will severely strain the moral fibres of our humanity. Only through a renewed focus on international cooperation and solidarity can we guide humankind through these coming decades with the least suffering.”


Prof Richard Allan, Professor of Climate Science, University of Reading, said:

“In addition to the many extreme weather events in 2020 documented by the WMO report, what is notable is an emerging picture that climate change is gathering pace: mountain glaciers and polar ice sheets are melting more quickly and heat is accumulating more rapidly in the ocean, with both effects driving an acceleration of sea level rise, while carbon dioxide increases, that are driving these changes, are becoming progressively larger over time.”


Prof Chris Rapley, Professor of Climate Science, University College London, said:

“In her book ’The March of Folly’, the US historian Barbara Tuchman defines Folly as ‘The pursuit of a policy contrary to the self-interest of the constituency or state involved’. She adds that to qualify as Folly, the policy adopted must meet three criteria: Firstly ‘It must have been perceived as counter-productive in its own time, not merely by hindsight’. Secondly ‘A feasible alternative course of action must have been available.’ And thirdly ’The policy in question should be that of a group, not an individual ruler, and should persist beyond any one political lifetime’. By these criteria the global societal response to the Climate Crisis is certainly Folly – arguably the grandest example of all time.

“With this in mind, the latest WMO ‘State of the Global Climate’ report’ falls rather flat. Here we go again – 28 issues since the annual exercise began, the message is the same  – yet incrementally worse. More floods, fires, heatwaves, storms, melting ice, and natural and human impacts. Especially worrisome is that, despite the societal impact of COVID, the signals – atmospheric greenhouse concentrations, ocean heat content, decadal temperature, continued to rise, in some case with clear acceleration. With estimates of the global mean temperature rise since pre-industrial times now in the range 1.15-1.28oC, the 1.5oC Paris guard-rail is close to being breached. The bottom line? – The way we have organised and are running human affairs is destabilising the climate system, with predictable and increasingly dire consequences.

“The issue is not of science but of politics. So what would an annual ’State of the Politics of Global Climate look like? It would look like the archetypical catalogue of Folly – Simples. So what to do? What precautions and safeguards are available to root out the individuals in power who perpetrate Folly? Plato suggested that the ruling class in a just society should be ‘drawn from the rational and wise’, characteristics hard to pin down precisely in a job interview, but ‘you know them when you see them’. Without society finding a mechanism to turf out those who have shown themselves inappropriately ‘apprenticed to the art’ we can expect next years’ State of the Climate Report, and those of subsequent years, to read much the same as the current one – but worse.’ Actions drive beliefs. It’s time for an uprising of concerted Action to fix politics – Managing the Climate Crisis will follow.”


Prof Ilan Kelman, Professor of Disasters and Health, University College London, said:

“While rightly noting the continuing, overwhelming evidence for human-caused climate change, the report also does well in moving away from climate change to explain 2020’s disasters and displacement. As the report notes, most of the people worst affected by disasters and displacement were already among the most vulnerable, meaning that these pre-existing conditions gave them few options to deal with 2020’s weather. The report’s phrase ‘compounded risk and vulnerability’ says it all: people suffering from adverse social and political conditions are hit by storms and droughts, and are forced to move into still-precarious locations and conditions, so vulnerabilities continue.

“Extracting climate change’s signal within these disaster and displacement complexities is hard. In 2020, Central America was pummelled by hurricanes which were likely intensified by climate change. Yet the immediate death toll remained well below past hurricane catastrophes in the region, such as Fifi in 1974 (over 8,000 dead), Mitch in 1998 (over 11,000 dead), and Stan in 2005 (over 1,500 dead). Similarly, the report describes the terrible locusts in East Africa in 2020 while noting that it was worse 25 years ago. All the adverse impacts in 2020 were exacerbated by the livelihood and health consequences of COVID-19, as the report highlights.

“Human-caused climate change is influencing our weather now. The report is correct to avoid direct and definite attribution to climate change for the world’s continual suffering through disasters and displacement.”



‘State of the Global Climate 2020’ by the World Meteorological Organization was published at 16:30 UK time on Monday 19th April.



Declared interests

Prof Tom Oliver: “No relevant declarations.”

Prof Chris Rapley: “I have no interests to declare.”

Prof Ilan Kelman: “No interests to declare.”

None others received.

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