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expert reaction to provisional WMO State of the Climate 2021

The World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) has published its provisional State of the Climate report for 2021.


Prof Hannah Cloke, Professor of Hydrology at the University of Reading, said:

“The WMO State of the Climate report highlights some of the most notable climatic events in the past year.

“As a scientist primarily studying floods and heatwaves, I believe 2021 should stand out as something of an annus horribilis. The devastating floods in Europe, China and South America, and killer heatwaves and fires in North America and southern Europe for example, ought to serve as a canary in the coal mine to spur faster action to adapt society to the reality of a changing climate. We should remember that this canary also represents thousands of unnecessary deaths and billions of dollars’ worth of destruction. 

“I only hope that during the next few days in Glasgow, these facts, which summarise the fates of millions of people, are foremost in the minds of the world’s political leaders. 

“The State of the Climate report draws on strong evidence from the recently-published Sixth Assessment report of the IPCC, and presents the evidence fairly and clearly. On attribution, the report highlights clearly the events that are strongly linked to climate change, and those where the science is more complex. 

“The report also notes the eye-wateringly high number of people in the developing world that don’t have enough food – 710 million people – and increasing numbers facing severe food shortage or starvation. In the UK, as we congratulate ourselves for our global leadership on climate in hosting COP26, we should remember that our government has just confirmed it will cut the UK aid budget, designed to help people in these dire positions.

“The UK government promised the British people via its election manifesto, and the world, that it would commit taxpayers’ money to helping the world’s poorest. The fact that the government is using legal loopholes to further reduce its overseas aid spending, frankly makes me ashamed to be British. If the UK government is serious about ‘levelling up’ opportunity, it might consider showing some genuine long-term vision and global leadership on this issue.”


Prof Rowan Sutton, National Centre for Atmospheric Science, University of Reading

“One the most important statements in the recent IPCC sixth assessment report was “with every additional increment of global warming changes in extreme events continue to become larger”. Placed alongside the recent devastating extreme events summarised in this crucial WMO report, this highlights just how much is at stake in the Glasgow negotiations.  How much worse will we allow extreme events to become?”


Prof William Collins, Professor of Meteorology, University of Reading, said:

“This WMO report follows on from the IPCC report this summer in highlighting that climate change is causing devastating extreme events across the globe from heatwaves to rainstorms. Climate changes is happening right here and now, it is no longer just a future concern.

“In spite of lockdowns greenhouse gases have reached record levels in the atmosphere and, even with the current climate pledges from governments, are still expected to lead to warming of 2.7 degrees above preindustrial levels. At COP26 the onus is on governments to recognise that we are not yet on track to prevent dangerous interference with the climate system. However the IPCC showed that, strong, rapid, and sustained reductions in CO2, methane and other greenhouse gases would not only reduce the consequences of climate change but also improve air quality.”


Prof Andrew Shepherd, Director of the Centre for Polar Observation and Modelling, University of Leeds, said:

“2021 is now the 30th consecutive year in which Antarctica and Greenland have together lost ice, and there is no sign of this abating. It’s a shocking record made all the more frustrating because it was predicted well in advance – not least by our fossil fuel suppliers who might have acted more responsibly. In fact the melting continues to track the IPCC’s worst-case climate warming scenarios which, simply put, means we have to prepare for the worst, and that’s a desperate situation for the millions of people who live at and depend on our coastal regions.


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

“The overall increasing temperatures and high temperature records are as worrying as our expectations. Lethal heat-humidity combinations will start to impede outdoor work such as construction and agriculture while killing those forced to work indoors in poorly ventilated spaces such as factories producing cheap clothes. Even people with 24/7 indoor cooling are vulnerable, since power outages are more likely.

“For intense rainfall, the human-caused climate change signal is crystal clear, although it appears as if many cyclonic storms such as hurricanes will decrease in frequency and increase in intensity due to climate change. More concerning is people living in floodplains without options to take adequate measures, as demonstrated by the floods in China. Similarly, the horrific European flash floods showed how, despite advance rainfall warnings, many people are not aware of the devastation that water can bring or the actions they need to take to avoid disaster.

“We have plenty to do to prepare ourselves and our infrastructure for any weather, no matter what the influence from climate change.”


Prof Jonathan Bamber, Director of the Bristol Glaciology Centre and guest professor at Technical University Munich, said:

“Although the numbers in the WMO report won’t come as a huge surprise to climate scientists they are, nonetheless, shocking and deeply disturbing and yet another wake up call to world leaders that time has run out for talk. Sea levels are rising faster now than at any other time in the last two millennia. If we continue on our current trajectory, that rise could exceed 2m by 2100 displacing some 630 million people worldwide. The consequences of that are unimaginable. What is required now is profound and comprehensive action by every nation and state actor to limit further and deeper climate breakdown.”


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

“Climate indicators from around the globe, compiled in these regular reports, are all consistent with a planet warmed by the inexorable increases in greenhouse gas concentrations caused by human activities.

“Heat is accumulating in the oceans which along with added melt water from glaciers and ice sheets are raising sea levels. Where weather patterns have conspired to generate heatwaves, droughts and flooding, these are now more severe due to the warmer climate, which is intensifying flows of water out of soils and into storms. Without the rapid, strong and sustained cuts in greenhouse gas emissions that must be agreed at the Glasgow COP26 and future climate meetings, each year will continue to see further documentation of our climate moving into a more dire uncharted territory.”


Dr Ella Gilbert, Post-doctoral research assistant, University of Reading, said:

“Climate change is happening everywhere we look. Whether it’s more devastating heatwaves, worsening floods or rising sea levels, we are feeling the impacts of climate change right here and right now.

“Already – at 1.1°C of warming – we are seeing glaciers melting before our very eyes, wildfires tearing through villages and towns, and floodwaters tragically taking lives and causing huge economic damage. Imagine what kind of impacts will be felt at 1.5°C, 2°C, or worse, 2.8°C of warming – and that is what we’re in for, given current policies and pledges under the Paris Agreement.

“The science is clear: every tenth of a degree of warming and every single tonne of greenhouse gas emissions matters.  But that also means every single action taken to mitigate climate change matters.”



Declared interests

Prof Hannah Cloke: “I am a fellow of ECMWF, which operates the Copernicus Climate Change Service on behalf of the European Commission, which provided data for the WMO report. I am a member of UKRI-NERC Council and have oversight of research council budgets that are in part drawn from UK overseas aid budgets. I also work on research projects jointly with FCDO funded from UK aid budgets.”

None others received.

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