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expert reaction to WMO press release on Earth Day, the impacts of COVID-19 and the final report on Global Climate 2015-2019

The World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) have released their final report on Global Climate 2015-2019.

 

Dr Anna Jones, a climate scientist at British Antarctic Survey:, said:

“The COVID-19 pandemic has forced populations across the world to change their behaviour. The reduction in industrial activity and travel will undoubtedly have reduced global emissions in greenhouse gases. This will have given the climate a brief respite, but only brief. To really heal the climate, and to maintain a healthy climate into the future, we need rapid, major, and sustained reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.”

 

Prof Elizabeth Robinson, Professor of Environmental Economics and co-investigator on the Lancet Countdown Tracking Progress on Health and Climate Change, said:

“Whilst our scientists are working hard to develop a vaccine against COVID-19, it is particularly important to remember that there is no vaccine to stop or reverse the effects of climate change, which is already causing premature deaths and harming our economies.

“However, the good news is that we already know how to reduce global warming, and we already know that the actions that we need to take make sense for our health and make sense for our economies. We already know that people across the globe are willing to take actions to reduce climate change and that they want their political leaders to act.

“This current tragedy, that has touched the lives of so many across the globe, has brought into sharp focus the need to take our future seriously.”

 

Prof Peter Styring, Professor of Chemical Engineering and Chemistry at the University of Sheffield’s Energy Institute, said:

“During the COVID-19 lockdown we have had a unique opportunity to monitor emissions and pollution in a near traffic-free environment. The results are clear: we need to reduce transport related emissions and change our way of living and working. The WMO statement is welcomed and timely. We all have a duty to protect our planet so that we can avoid the catastrophic consequences of climate change.”

 

Dr John Marsham, University of Leeds and National Centre for Atmospheric Science (NCAS), UK, said:

 “COVID-19 is having a temporary effect in reducing our greenhouse gas emissions, but that is not COVID-19’s main relevance to our actions on climate. Much more importantly, COVID19 highlights as never before how warnings from scientists must be taken seriously and adequate action must be taken in advance, both to avert crises and minimise any inevitable impacts. Climate change is an urgent threat to humanity and drastic action is now long overdue.”

 

Prof Sir Brian Hoskins, Chair of the Grantham Institute, Imperial College London, said:

“At a time when our lack of resilience has been exposed most cruelly by the pandemic, this Earth Day Report is a reminder that limiting climate change, as agreed in Paris, and adapting to the inevitable changes are central to the resilience of human life on this planet.”

 

Prof Robert Van de Noort, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Reading, said:

“We all have a part to play in tackling the coronavirus crisis. COVID-19 is a tragedy, and will cost the economy billions, but the measures to contain the virus shows the lengths to which people are willing to go to protect their families and save other people’s lives.

“We all look forward to seeing the back of the coronavirus, and must focus on making this a reality. Once quarantine measures have ended, let’s learn from our lockdown and make the changes necessary to tackle climate change, which will be humanity’s biggest challenge in the years and decades to come.”

 

Prof Tim Dixon, Professor of Sustainable Futures in the Built Environment, University of Reading, said:

“The coronavirus lockdown has shown us the true value of things we previously may have taken for granted, such as open green space to exercise, high-quality homes for all, and broadband infrastructure.

“Those things are valuable to us now because they provide benefits to the whole of society. We must ensure that we continue to value community assets as we plan, design and create new visions for  the towns and cities of the future. This means thinking long term and planning to retrofit our towns and cities at scale locally in places such as Reading, and nationally as well.”

 

Prof Ed Hawkins, Professor of Climate Science at the University of Reading, and creator of the ‘warming stripes’ and Weather Rescue citizen science project, said:

“Our days are understandably dominated with discussion about COVID-19. We know that to beat the coronavirus, every person needs to understand the issues at stake and take action, playing their role to save lives.

“It’s exactly the same with climate change. Only by talking about it, and helping others to understand it, can we create the kind of society-wide change that is needed to tackle it.”

 

Prof Cameron Hepburn, Director of the Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment, University of Oxford

“The response to COVID-19 has heavily restricted economic activity and greenhouse gas emissions, but this is no cause for celebration. It makes clear that behaviour change, while not unimportant, will be nowhere near enough to get to net zero emissions – the deployment of clean technologies is critical. The response to the COVID-19 crisis could exacerbate the climate crisis if bailouts of the fossil fuel industry and fossil-intensive sectors are not conditional on a transition to clean technologies. Once the immediate need for liquidity and economic rescue are met, recovery packages could deliver economic renewal. Investing in clean skills, jobs, infrastructure and technologies required in a net zero emissions world will get the economy humming again and leave us better prepared for the climate emergency.”

 

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

“This report highlights the huge raft of authoritative measurement-based evidence that continues to show that climate change is happening now, and accelerating. This remains the case even during (and long after) the current coronavirus crisis. These impacts are global, and in the days just before coronavirus changed the world, we were reminded of this with reports of wildfires in Australia and extreme flooding in the UK. The past 5 years have been the warmest on record globally. Concentrations of greenhouse gases continue to rise, even during this crisis, despite a significant fraction of the global economy in shutdown. This is because we continue to emit more greenhouse gases than natural systems can lock away again, even now. So, while the pace of growth in greenhouse gas concentrations may currently (and very temporarily) be slightly slower than normal, we must remember that climate change is an increasing and long term problem that will not go away, even temporarily. Once emitted, greenhouse gases stay in the atmosphere for many decades. Most pollutants affecting local air quality are much shorter lived in the atmosphere.  So, while air quality may be slightly better in some places during ongoing lockdowns, greenhouse gas concentrations are continuing to rise globally and climate change will not go away. The very real health, economic, and environmental impacts of climate change continue to accumulate. Unlike coronavirus, the climate change impact curve is not flattening, much less declining.”

 

Prof Daniela Schmidt, Professor in Palaeobiology, University of Bristol, said:

“The report shows clearly that our world is warming and will continue to do so. The impact of a world of transport, with large energy uses to support out cities, will not continue to stop even though many of us are currently breathing a cleaner air and are able to hear nature more than we have for decades. While pollution has dropped with economic activity, CO2 is not just disappearing overnight. The pandemic has made us less able to tackle the impact of climate change impacts, as we cannot send people to help after hurricanes. We have also learned, though, during the last months that actions taken together to make a difference.”

 

Dr Simon Gosling, Lecturer in Climate Change and Hydrology, University of Nottingham, said:

“The COVID-19 pandemic is showing, on one hand, how some countries can react quickly to a massive global threat, by introducing new policies and initiatives for technological innovations to lessen, and fight, the effects of the threat. But, on the other hand, there has been a mixed response in terms of international cooperation to dealing with the crisis. It’s also showing how, despite best efforts, the threat cannot be completely eliminated. There’s a comparison to be made here with how the world is dealing with one of the other major threats to humanity: climate change. Yes, certain technologies are being developed to lower greenhouse gas emissions, and there has been international cooperation such as with the signing of the Paris Agreement in 2015, but despite all of this, the report [on the Global Climate 2015-2019] shows that we have seen an acceleration of climate change in the past five years, not the deceleration that the world needs to see if we are going to avoid multiple dangerous effects of climate change. For many countries currently on lockdown, the science has shown that the effects of doing nothing (in reference to COVID-19) would be catastrophic, with the potential to overwhelm national healthcare services many times over. With climate change, we also know that the effects of doing nothing could be catastrophic – the difference with climate change compared to the pandemic, is that we don’t necessarily see the effects of our mitigative and adaptative actions in the coming weeks – we’ll see them in the years and decades ahead. This is why the WMO says that we need to act together, not just for the weeks or months ahead, but for many generations ahead. Dealing with climate change requires us to think beyond the now, and towards what we want the world to look like in decades to come. The pandemic is a sobering reminder of the importance of international cooperation and just how crucial it can be to make the right decisions at the right time. It’s not yet too late to make the decisions that will improve the quality of life for humanity in the generations to come, but that amount of time is quickly running out. This is a point echoed in David Attenborough’s new ‘witness statement’ film (“A Life on Our Planet”), in which he argues that if we act now we can put right the mistakes of the past.”

 

Prof Dave Reay, Chair in Carbon Management, Executive Director of Edinburgh Centre for Carbon Innovation, University of Edinburgh, said:

“At the ripe old age of 50 you could argue ‘Earth Day’ has failed on climate change. Global temperatures and sea levels have continued to rise, heat waves and other climate-related risks have intensified, and species extinctions have accelerated to epoch-defining magnitudes. Yet in these darkest of days the 50th Earth Day provides a beacon. It’s marks a real chance to reshape the 21st century, to make it more sustainable, resilient and equitable for all.

“Today, public health and food supply systems are under tremendous strain right across our pale blue planet. A global green recovery will help ensure such fragile lifelines for humanity are strengthened, that natural ecosystems are protected, and that the fossil-fuelled norms of ‘Before Covid’ are consigned to the history books.

“Climate change has not gone away – it remains the greatest threat multiplier on Earth – but if our leaders can show one ounce of the courage currently being shown by our health workers then Earth Day can still become one of celebration rather than mourning.”

 

WMO is using this occasion to release the final version of the report on the Global Climate 2015-2019 (a preliminary version was released for the Climate Action Summit in September 2019). 

 

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