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The planet is “changing before our eyes” due to global warming, with the impact of the climate crisis set to have far-reaching repercussions for current and future generations, according to a damning United Nations report ahead of Cop26.
A study by the UN’s World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) found that the planet had entered “uncharted territory” as rising temperatures pose a threat to food security and crucial ecosystems.
The provisional WMO State of the Global Climate 2021 report also showed that the past seven years are on track to be the seven warmest on record, based on data for the first nine months of this year.
Even with a temporary cooling event, known as La Niña, earlier this year, 2021 is still expected to be the fifth to seventh warmest year on record, while global sea levels have risen to a new high.
“The provisional WMO State of the Global Climate 2021 report draws from the latest scientific evidence to show how our planet is changing before our eyes,” UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres said in response to the report.
“From the ocean depths to mountain tops, from melting glaciers to relentless extreme weather events, ecosystems and communities around the globe are being devastated.”
The report, which combines work from multiple UN agencies, national meteorological and hydrological services and scientific experts, comes as world leaders meet in Glasgow for the Cop26 conference to discuss climate change.
Wealthy countries are under pressure to raise their ambitions for climate action to tackle the crisis over the coming years, in order to limit global temperatures rising to below 1.5C compared to pre-industrial levels.
“Scientists are clear on the facts. Now leaders need to be just as clear in their actions,” Mr Guterres added.
“The door is open; the solutions are there. Cop26 must be a turning point. We must act now – with ambition and solidarity – to safeguard our future and save humanity.”
The WMO’s report warned that extreme weather events have been increasing in frequency and intensity over the last 10 years, with one UN expert warning extreme events are now “the new norm”.
It added that the impact of these events, along with conflicts, economic shocks and the Covid-19 pandemic, have led to “a rise in hunger and, consequently, undermined decades of progress towards improving food security”.
The past year has seen many parts of the Mediterranean experience record temperatures, often accompanied by devastating fires, along with a month’s worth of rainfall in the space of hours in China and severe flooding in parts of Europe that led to dozens of casualties.
Meanwhile, rain was recorded for the first time at the peak of the Greenland ice sheet and Canadian glaciers have suffered from “rapid melting”.
In response to the worsening crisis, international scientific advisers, including the UK’s Sir Patrick Vallance, have signed an open letter ahead of Cop26, arguing that “the scientific case for urgent climate action is unequivocal”.
“This report hammers home the message that climate change is real and present: the seas are rising, glaciers are melting, and floods and wildfires are more frequent,” Sir Patrick said.
“Across the world, these changes are already affecting our transport, healthcare and food systems.”
He added: “We must continue to conduct fundamental research to understand the range and extent of climate impacts. And we must act now to mitigate the worst effects and adapt to the changes that will still occur.
“The commitment of leaders to implement changes to limit warming to 1.5C at Cop26 will be essential to protect all of us and the planet.”