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expert reaction to United in Science 2021 climate report

The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) have released a new report on the state of the Earth’s climate system. 


Prof Simon Gosling, Professor of Climate Risks at the University of Nottingham, said:

“The United in Science report draws upon some of the latest science and conclusions from a series of international scientific bodies, making it a timely and robust summary of the state of climate change, ahead of COP26 later this year.

“We’re already seeing extreme events that are attributable to human climate change across the world, like heatwaves, floods and forest fires. This report highlights why we have to turn a sharp corner to avoid the situation getting considerably worse. We are hurtling towards 1.5°C at a worrying rate. It’s not something decades away but something we have a fair chance of seeing in a matter of years.

“Unless more action is taken on addressing the global emissions gap, some very hard times are ahead, as a more extreme climate combines with the challenges and difficulties of the pandemic. The healthcare sector has been under huge pressure in many countries as cases of Covid-19 have surged. One of the most direct impacts of climate change mentioned in the report is the effect of heat on health, which will exacerbate the pressures that healthcare systems have been under throughout the pandemic. It’s positive that 63% of global emissions are now covered by national net-zero emission goals, but the report notes that there is still some way to go.

“In amongst the many difficulties, lockdowns in 2020 offered a glimpse of what a greener planet could look like, with images of unpolluted skies in the news, and declines in CO2 emissions, along with the concept of growing back greener. But one year later CO2 emissions have largely bounced back to pre-pandemic levels. Growing back greener is still possible but the report highlights how time is slipping by quickly to realise all the benefits that it could bring.”


Prof Dave Reay, Director of Edinburgh Climate Change Institute, University of Edinburgh, said:

“So far it’s been less a ‘green recovery’ from Covid for most economies, and more a carbon-blinkered dash back towards business as usual.”


Dr Joeri Rogelj, from the Grantham Institute for Climate Change and Environment at Imperial, and an author of the report, said:

“The messages in this report provide a grim and alarming picture. We are experiencing unprecedented climate change. We have caused it. And our actions to date are largely insufficient to avoid it from getting worse.

“The combined evidence in this report should empower anyone to make sure the report’s messages are heard in places of power by those making decisions about our future. The next climate summit COP26 in November in Glasgow is a key date where the world will have to come together to take the decisions necessary to halt climate change within our lifetimes.”


Prof Lenny Koh, University of Sheffield Energy Institute, said:

“This authoritative report paints an alarming picture and sounds the wake up call – we are off-track on addressing climate change despite many major efforts and policy instruments designed to combat climate change. We must act now in order to reverse climate change. It will require urgent global collaborations and partnerships, including taking science and innovation-based net zero, climate and carbon neutral solutions to achieving a sustainable planet, supply chain and resource system.”


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

“Temporary reductions in greenhouse gas emissions due to COVID disruption in 2020 were not long-lasting or large enough for even a slowing in the human-caused rise in their atmospheric concentrations to be detected above natural year to year fluctuations. The latest IPCC report is clear that strong, rapid and sustained cuts in greenhouse gases are essential in limiting warming of climate to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial climate, above which more warming will further substantially intensify the severity of hot, dry and wet extremes that are already being observed across the globe as has been seen in 2021.”


Dr Paul Young, Atmospheric Scientist at the Lancaster Environment Centre, Lancaster University, said:

“Several detailed studies have shown us that COVID lockdowns, and the reduced traffic they brought, decreased air pollution in many towns and cities across the world, allowing many of us to enjoy some of the cleanest air of our lives. But we obviously still needed energy, not least for our electricity and to heat our water and our homes. As such, it’s not surprising that greenhouse gas emissions continued to increase over this time – in the UK, our electricity generation from fossil fuel sources is still greater than 40%. 

“Perhaps one thing that COVID has taught us is that large scale change is possible, which is something we will need to embrace as we urgently address greenhouse gas emissions. Yet COVID has also shown us that the impacts of large scale change are not felt equitably – any future pathways to deal with climate change must recognize this and ensure that the impacts of any change are not disproportionately felt on those less able to cope.”   


Prof Klaus Dodds of Royal Holloway, University of London’s Department of Geography, said:

“The COVID-19 pandemic provoked radical public health action by states worldwide. Money was spent and stark interventions introduced to restrict mobility, subsidize markets, and advocate for behavioural change. But the climate crisis should not be trivialised by patching up, rather than making fundamental change. We need to decarbonise and accelerate the move away from hydrocarbon exploitation. Governments need to do more to take us from code Red to Green.”



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