"No country or community is immune to climate change," UN Secretary General warns
World Meteorological Organization says climate change is increasing likelihood of extreme weather
Natural disasters triggered by extreme weather impacted 62 million people in 2018
Extreme weather events, such as Cyclone Idai, are becoming more frequent due to climate change and will intensify if countries do not take urgent action to curb global warming, the UN secretary general warned on Thursday.
“Every week brings a new example of climate-related devastation. No country or community is immune,” UN Secretary General António Guterres said at a summit in New York where the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) released its 2018 State of the Global Climate report.
“As is always the case, the poor and vulnerable are the first to suffer and the worst hit,” Guterres said, referring to the millions of people impacted by Cyclone Idai in Mozambique, Tanzania and Malawi.
The Category 2 storm killed an estimated 750 people after completely submerging villages across the three countries.
“Such events are becoming more frequent, more severe and more widespread and will become even worse unless we act urgently, now,” he said.
In its report the WMO warned that the impacts of climate change, including extreme weather and sea level rise, are accelerating, putting millions of people worldwide at risk.
“It is evident that climate change has increased the likelihood of Idai type of events,” WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas told CNN.
Climate change is increasing the amount of water vapor in the atmosphere, which in turn exacerbates flooding risks, Taalas said.
“The devastation of Idai was a combination of high wind speeds, 4.4 meter storm surges and heavy rains in low lying areas. The heavy rains in Malawi and Zimbabwe further contributed to river flooding downstream in Mozambique,” he said.
The WMO report – released in provisional form in November 2018 – says the past four years were the hottest on record, going back to 1850, with the 20 hottest years on the list all occurring in the past 22 years.
Unprecedented heat waves and wildfires led to over 1600 deaths in Europe, Japan and the United States, the report noted.
Natural disasters triggered by extreme weather impacted nearly 62 million and floods affected more than 35 million people worldwide in 2018, it said.
In the United States, hurricanes Florence and Michael led to over 100 deaths and financial losses of $49 billion.
The report warned that sea levels are continuing to rise at an accelerated rate, with 2018’s global mean the highest on record.
Last year also broke new records for heat content in the upper 700 meters and 2,000 meters of the oceans.
Professor Dave Reay, Chair in Carbon Management at the University of Edinburgh, said in a statement: “These past 25 years the WMO have carefully documented a gathering ‘Perfect Storm’ where rising global temperatures and a destabilizing climate combine with faltering food, water and energy security in a disastrous cocktail for humanity.
“This latest report lays bare how the impacts of climate change are now being felt in every sector and every ecosystem. For those who still think we can leave tackling climate change for tomorrow the message here is thunderous: the Perfect Storm is no longer brewing, it has arrived.”
Last year the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned that the world has less than 12 years to slash emissions and avoid disastrous levels of global warming.
Global net emissions of carbon dioxide need to fall by 45% from 2010 levels by 2030 and reach “net zero” by 2050 to keep global warming under 1.5 °C, according to the IPCC report.
“We have no excuse not to act. We need action, ambition and political will,” Guterres said, announcing that he will convene a Climate Action Summit in September.