The warning is dire. The World Meteorological Organization has alerted the world about the current decade’s “exceptional heat”, one that is likely to be the hottest on record. Though the decade may be inching towards its conclusion, 2019 is likely to be the second or third warmest year ever, a geographical fact that ought to temper the jollity as 2020 unfolds.
In parallel, heatwaves and floods, that used to be once-in-a-century events, are now becoming what the WMO calls “more regular occurrences”. The signal from Madrid is the severest assessment yet of the twin phenomena of climate change and global warming and definitely surpasses the periodic signal of intent from Copenhagen, Cancun and Paris.
More than any other world leader, it is time for Donald Trump to shed the remarkable insensitivity that has marked his response, and heed the findings unveiled in Madrid. Temperatures for the years from 2010 to 2019 were about 1.1ºC above the average for the preindustrial period, showing how close the world is coming to the 1.5ºC of warming that scientists say will cause dramatic impacts, extreme weather and the loss of vital ecosystems.
For all its bumbling diplomacy, the world must give it to the United Nations for its robust initiative to address a frightful geographical phenomenon. The preliminary findings of the State of the Global Climate, an annual publication of the WMO, show that this year is on course to be the second or third warmest since records were maintained. Over land, the impacts from January to October, have included severe drought, heatwaves and floods across all inhabited continents, notably the subcontinent.
Nay more, there have been heatwaves across the seas as well. It thus comes about that during this year, the upper levels of the oceans, measured since the 1950s, have exceeded previous records. It lends a new dimension to oceanic studies if the seas have experienced about 1.5 months of unusually warm temperatures, with large areas of the north-east Pacific showing severe heatwaves. The global scenario seems beyond hope, beyond despair.
Countries from the Bahamas to Japan to Mozambique have suffered devastating tropical cyclones. Wildfires swept through the Arctic and Australia, not to forget the very recent disaster in Venezuela. Close to the bone is the impact on food not the least because still more erratic rainfall patterns have posed a threat to crop yields. This would mean considerable challenges to food security for vulnerable countries.
The findings have been disclosed as the world’s governments gathered in Madrid for a critical UN conference on climate. Last Monday, the UN Secretary- General, António Guterres, warned that though the technology and economic means to fight climate chaos were available, political will was lacking. The UN chief’s inaugural presentation has hit the bull’s eye, as did the one by 16-year-old Greta Thunberg in the General Assembly.