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expert reaction to the Provisional Statement on the State of the Climate in 2019

The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) has issued a statement on the State of the Climate in 2019, reporting that 2019 concludes a decade of exceptional global heat and
high-impact weather. 

 

Prof Meric Srokosz, Marine Physics and Ocean Climate Scientist, National Oceanography Centre (NOC), said:

“The data continue to show the growing impact of rising anthropogenic CO2 in the atmosphere. The oceans are absorbing much of the excess heat, and some of the CO2, with negative consequences, including rising sea level and coral bleaching. Overall, the future looks increasingly bleak.”

 

Dr Friederike Otto, Deputy Director, Environmental Change Institute, University of Oxford, said:

“There are strong messages in the statements. Some very expected, but others are a new type of message. Cyclone Idai is an important example of what climate change can look and feel like without any abstract numbers.

“We do not know (yet!) whether and how much climate change contributed to the hurricane itself, but what we do know is that in today’s climate, when a cyclone like this occurs the rainfall associated with such a hurricane is more intense because of climate change, as is the inundation because of sea level rise. In other words, without climate change fewer people would have died. But it is very important to highlight, that disasters, conflict, migration and other potential impacts of climate change are not straightforward at all, and the hazard plays, if any, only a small role.

“But in no way is that a reason not to act: on the contrary, it highlights that we are not even adapted to 1.1 degree of warming. And there is no doubt that this 1.1 degree is due the burning of fossil fuels.”

 

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

“Weather patterns determine where and when extremes of rainfall and heat occur, yet the continued increases in greenhouse gas concentrations are making these extremes and their impacts on agriculture, health and ecosystems more severe.”

“Most regions of our planet are showing clear signs that the climate is heating up and combined with our understanding of the physics of the atmosphere and oceans we know that it’s our fault and the only way to stop this is to reduce and begin removing emissions of greenhouse gases. The discussions at the Madrid COP25 this week and the following COP26 in Glasgow next November are therefore absolutely crucial.”

 

Prof Euan Nisbet, Professor of Earth Sciences, Royal Holloway University of London, said:

“A very worrying developments is the fast rise in methane since 2007 and especially the accelerated growth since 2014. Methane was stable from 2000-2006 but started growing strongly in 2007. In 2014, this new growth intensified with very high rates since. The reasons are unclear but the focus is in the low latitudes. The carbon source seems to be mainly biological – warming tropical wetlands, and tropical cattle. Tropical countries can do a lot to help, for example by simple measures such as covering huge new urban landfills with soil, and especially by stopping fires.”

 

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

“In her book The March of Folly, the American historian Barbara Tuchman defines Policy Folly according to three criteria: it must have been perceived as counter-productive in its own time; feasible alternative courses of action must have been available; the policy in question should be that of a group, not an individual leader, and should persist beyond any one political lifetime.

“By these criteria, the lack of adequate action to address climate change by the world political class over decades is a Folly. It follows a long tradition of mind-numbing stupidity and cupidity by groups in power, well documented in Tuchman’s book. “Given the unfolding climatic consequences, as summarised in the sequence of WMO State of the Climate reports, it is a Folly of epic proportions.

“Given the potential of our current course to trigger climatic Tipping Points, beyond which we will lose control of our disruption of the climate system – it may prove to be the Ultimate Folly. Will collective decisions at COP25 in Madrid change the course of history? Tuchman’s book suggests not. Only extraordinary measures can now avert dark consequences. A glimmer of light? – An uprising by global youth. They have a voice, and it is growing louder. Those who know the score should actively assist.”

 

Prof Keith Shine FRS, Regius Professor of Meteorology and Climate Science at the University of Reading, said:

“We are coming to the end of another decade. Each of the past 4 decades has, when averaged over the whole planet, been 0.1 to 0.2 degrees C warmer than the decade before; carbon dioxide levels have continued their relentless rise; and methane levels have grown much more rapidly than in the previous decade. Unless things start to change markedly over the coming decade, it is going to get harder and harder to meet the goals of the UN’s Paris Agreement on climate change”.

 

Dr. Joanna House, Reader in Environmental Science and Policy, Cabot Institute of the Environment, University of Bristol, said:

“It’s shocking how much climate change in 2019 has already lead to lives lost, poor health, food insecurity and displaced populations.  Even as a climate scientist who knows the evidence and the projections, I find this deeply upsetting.  What is more shocking is how long very little has been done about this.  We have the information, the solutions, what we need now is urgent action.

 

Dr Joeri Rogelj, Grantham Lecture in Climate Change, Imperial College London

“Unfortunately, the messages of the WMO State of the Climate report never come as a surprise. Our economic activities continue to use the atmosphere as a waste dump for greenhouse gases. The increasing temperatures, the warming oceans, ocean acidification and other indicators are the logical consequence of this inaction and this should worry us deeply. 

“We understand that many of these changes will persist for centuries, continuing to impact people and ecosystems around the globe. Even to simply halt warming, global CO2 emissions have to be brought back to zero. Our current trends show unequivocally that we’re not doing a good job at all at responding this critical challenge of our times.”

 

Prof Grant Allen, Professor of Atmospheric Physics at the University of Manchester, said:

“This excellent report on the combined output of global research and evidence concerning the state of Earth’s climate lays bare that climate change is a real and present danger. The evidence is clear – each of the past 3 decades has been warmer than the last, and the past 5 years have been the hottest 5 years on record. The global mean temperature is now more than 1 degree Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

“This does not simply mean slightly warmer summers, it means an increased frequency of extreme weather globally  – droughts, heat waves, flooding, and changing patterns in the frequency and intensity of tropical cyclones. These impacts are real and happening now and place huge pressures on communities and countries, potentially leading to climate-induced migration, conflict and geopolitical risk. Put simply, these impacts make for a more unstable world and are already having profound impacts on our ecosystem services and biodiversity.

“Global greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise. Without a global effort to reach carbon neutrality by the middle of this century (led by the world’s highest emitters especially), projections in this report suggest that we may reach 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels well before the end of the current century. The impacts of such a rise would dwarf those we have already seen. It is already well over time to rapidly restructure our economies away from greenhouse gas emitting industries and practices, and adapt and mitigate for current and future change already locked into the climate system.”

 

Prof Dave Reay, Chair in Carbon Management at the University of Edinburgh, said:

“For this latest ‘State of the Climate’ read ‘State of Emergency’. The report lays bare the huge human cost already being paid for rising greenhouse gas concentrations: record heat exposure and increasing global hunger, extreme weather events and mass human displacement. For far too long this roar of tumbling climate records has fallen on deaf policy ears. The stark truth is that the climate change impacts of 2019 are only early skirmishes in a global onslaught that threatens civilisation itself.

“Now a new roar – that of many millions demanding urgent action on climate change – is echoing through parliaments, boardrooms and international negotiations. The world is waking up. This coming year won’t just decide what’s in the ‘State of the Climate’ report for 2020, it will shape the future of climate change for generations to come.”

 

Prof Mark Maslin, Professor of Climatology, University College London (UCL), said:

“The WMO State of Climate report is a sobering compilation of the world’s changing climate.  Carbon dioxide up, methane up, nitrous oxides up, temperatures up, ocean heat content up, sea level up, ocean pH down, ocean oxygen content down, Arctic sea ice cover down, heatwaves, storms, floods, droughts all up.  These changes are already affecting people’s health from extreme weather events, air pollution, spread of tropical diseases and food insecurity. 

“At a time when there is a universal call to reduce global carbon emissions, we have another authoritative report showing that nothing has changed and that the rate of increase in greenhouse gases this decade is larger than in the previous decade.  Despite all the speeches and the political promises nothing has been done to change the global obsession with fossil fuels.  We need significant changes to occur in 2020 and the COP26 in Madrid needs to deliver major changes in national policies; otherwise next year the WMO report will be even worse and we will have even less time to save the planet and ourselves from the climate change we are causing.”

 

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