Extreme weather events and Covid-19 pandemic combined in a double blow in 2020, according to a new report released by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) on April 19.

2020 was one of the three warmest years on record and the average global temperature was 1.2° Celsius above the pre-industrial (1850-1900) level, the report stated.

The six warmest years on record have all been since 2015 and decade of 2011-2020 was the warmest decade on record. Overall indicators of climate change like increasing land and ocean temperatures, sea-level rise, melting ice, glacier retreat and extreme weather events, all worsened in 2020. This in turn affected migration, displacement and food security in several regions of the world.

The report called the State of the Global Climate 2020 has been put together by WMO and its partner organizations. The first such report was issued in 1993.

“All key climate indicators and associated impact information provided in this report highlight relentless, continuing climate change, an increasing occurrence and intensification of extreme events, and severe losses and damage, affecting people, societies and economies,” said Petteri Taalas, Secretary General of WMO. “The negative trend in climate will continue for the coming decades independent of our success in mitigation.”

The launch of the report comes ahead of the two-day virtual leaders summit on climate convened by the United States starting April 22 to galvanize efforts by major economies to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.

‘No time to waste’

The United Nations (UN) has asked the countries of the world to commit to net zero emissions by the year 2050 to avert the worst-case scenario of climate change. This would mean that any carbon emission from a country would have to be offset by removing the carbon using natural carbon sinks like forests, mangroves and other carbon capture methods.

“This report shows that we have no time to waste. The climate is changing, and the impacts are already too costly for people and the planet,” said António Guterres, Secretary-General of the UN.

The world’s oceans absorb 90% of the excess heat as well as 23% of the annual carbon dioxide emissions from human activities. As a result of this 80% of the ocean area experienced at least one marine heatwave in 2020 harming coral reefs. Emerging evidence suggests that the equator is already too hot for several marine species who are now moving northwards.

The Arctic region in the planet’s north also saw record high temperatures in 2020 triggering faster melting of ice sheets. The Greenland ice sheet that covers roughly 79% of Greenland continued to shrink. This ice sheet is the second largest ice sheet in the world after the Antarctic ice sheet and its melting has propelled sea-level rise.

Need to invest in early warning systems

As extreme weather events will continue to rise further, investing in early warning services and weather observing networks would be the key. Extreme weather events linked to climate change are already causing unprecedented damage to developing countries and small island nations.

“Several less developed countries have major gaps in their observing systems and are lacking state of the art weather, climate and water services,” said Taalas.