UN weather agency warns climate goals to tackle hunger and poverty are being undermined

World Meteorological Organisation says only 15% of sustainable development targets are on track

The aftermath of deadly flooding in Libya. The UN weather agency says science is central to finding solutions to extreme weather. EPA
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The UN's weather agency has warned only 15 per cent of the world's sustainable development goals, or SDGs, are on track.

The World Meteorological Organisation said in a new report that almost all global SDGs – from ensuring food security to lowering carbon emissions – have been undermined.

In the foreword of the United in Science report, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres warns that the world is “woefully off track” in efforts to tackle climate change.

It comes after leaders were warned last week in a progress report that will shape the course of the Cop28 climate summit in the UAE that the world was not on track to slow global warming to 1.5°C.

The report, released on Thursday, revealed the world was not on track to meet its climate goals, which will have far-reaching effects on global efforts to tackle hunger, poverty and health issues, as well as improving access to clean water and energy.

The annual report, which features input from 18 organisations, has been issued ahead of the SDG Summit and Climate Ambition Summit at the UN General Assembly in New York on September 20.

Mr Guterres said that “2023 has shown all too clearly that climate change is here”.

“Record temperatures are scorching the land and heating the sea, as extreme weather causes havoc around the globe,” he said.

“While we know this is just the beginning, the global response is falling far short. Meanwhile, halfway to the 2030 deadline for the SDGs, the world is woefully off-track.

“Science is central to solutions. It is widely understood that weather, climate, and water-related sciences provide the underpinnings for climate action. But it is less recognised how these sciences can supercharge progress on the SDGs across the board.”

The report, published on Thursday, comes as Libya has suffered devastating floods brought by Storm Daniel, which has wreaked havoc around the Mediterranean.

Flooding in eastern Libya has killed more than 5,000 people, with another 10,000 missing.

Early warning systems

The report authors say the “need for science and solutions is more urgent than ever”.

“At this pivotal moment in history, the halfway mark to achieving the SDGs, the science community stands united in the effort to achieve prosperity for people and the planet,” said the WMO's secretary general, Petteri Taalas.

“Groundbreaking scientific and technological advances, such as high-resolution climate modelling, artificial intelligence and nowcasting, can catalyse transformation to achieve the SDGs.”

Prof Taalas highlighted the WMO's Early Warnings for All initiative, which aims to ensure that everyone on Earth is protected from extreme weather events through early warning systems.

“And achieving Early Warnings for All by 2027 will not only save lives and livelihoods but also help safeguard sustainable development,” he said.

The report shows how weather predictions can help boost food production and move closer to zero hunger.

It says early warning systems can help to reduce poverty by giving people the chance to prepare and limit the impact.

Integrating epidemiology and climate information helps understand and anticipate those diseases sensitive to climate, according to the report.

Between 1970 and 2021, there were nearly 12,000 reported disasters from weather, climate and water extremes, causing over two million deaths and $4.3 trillion in economic losses.

More than 90 per cent of these reported deaths and 60 per cent of economic losses occurred in developing economies, undermining sustainable development.

The chance of the annual mean global near-surface temperature temporarily exceeding 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels for at least one of the next five years is 66 per cent and is increasing with time, it warns.

“So far, there has been very limited progress in reducing the emissions gap for 2030 – the gap between the emissions reductions promised by countries and the emissions reductions needed to achieve the temperature goal of the Paris Agreement,” says the report.

“Fossil fuel carbon dioxide emissions increased 1 per cent globally in 2022 compared to 2021 and preliminary estimates from January-June 2023 show a further 0.3 per cent rise.

“To get on track to meet the Paris Agreement goals of limiting warming to well below 2°C and preferably 1.5°C, global greenhouse gas emissions must be reduced by 30 per cent and 45 per cent, respectively, by 2030, with carbon dioxide emissions getting close to net zero by 2050. This will require large-scale, rapid and systemic transformations.”

Some future changes in climate are unavoidable, and potentially irreversible, but every fraction of a degree and tonne of carbon dioxide matters to limit global warming and achieve the SDGs, says the report.

Cop28, hosted by the UAE at Expo City Dubai at the end of the year, offers a chance to address how countries are faring in meeting targets agreed in the 2015 Paris Agreement at Cop21.

Under the Paris Agreement, most countries pledged to try to keep the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C pre-industrial levels and pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.

“The science continues to show that we are not doing enough to lower emissions and meet the goals of the Paris Agreement – as the world prepares for the first global stocktake at Cop28, we must increase our ambition and action, and we must all do the real work to transform our economies through a just transition to a sustainable future for people and planet,” said Inger Andersen, executive director of the UN Environment Programme.

Carbon dioxide emissions up

The WMO report says total carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels increased 1 per cent globally in 2022 compared to 2021 – primarily driven by growth in oil use as the aviation sector rebounded.

Preliminary estimates shows that global fossil carbon dioxide emissions in January to June 2023 were 0.3 per cent above the same period in 2022.

It says there is a 98 per cent chance that one of the next five years will be the warmest on record and current mitigation policies will lead to estimated global warming of around 2.8°C over this century compared to pre-industrial levels unless “immediate and unprecedented reductions” in greenhouse gas emissions are made.

It warns almost 670 million people may face hunger in 2030, in part due to more extreme weather events that disrupt food security, and more investments is needed in weather, climate and water-related sciences to enable farmers to make decisions for instance on crops and planting.

Early warnings are crucial to enabling anticipatory action to protect agricultural livelihoods and identify potential areas of crop failure that may lead to emergencies, it says.

The study also highlights that half of countries report not having multi-hazard early warning systems in place and, where they do exist, there are significant gaps in coverage and investment is needed to help enhance detection, monitoring and forecasting of hazards.

Climate change and extreme events like heatwaves are projected to significantly increase ill health and premature deaths and are exacerbating water-related hazards, such as floods and droughts.

More than 60 per cent of countries have inadequate and declining hydrological monitoring capabilities. However, scientific and technological advances, such as drones, artificial intelligence and space technology, could provide opportunities for data-driven integrated water management practices and policies, the WMO report says.

Updated: September 14, 2023, 8:10 AM