Past decade was warmest on record 'by a clear margin'

Rising levels of greenhouse gases fuelled climate change on land and in the sea

Locals help a firefighter as they try to extinguish a wildfire burning near the village of Vlyhada near Athens. Getty Images
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The decade between 2011 to 2020 was the warmest on record “by a clear margin”, as rising levels of greenhouse gases fuelled climate change on land and in the sea, according to a study by the UN’s weather agency.

The Decadal State of the Climate report from the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) said the six warmest years on record globally took place between 2015 and 2020.

And more countries reported record-high temperatures than in any other decade.

Marine heatwaves also became more common, with 60 per cent of the surface of the ocean experiencing a heatwave in any given year between 2011 to 2020.

The world’s surging temperatures accelerated the melting of ice, thinning glaciers by around one metre each year.

The Antarctic continental ice sheet shrunk almost 75 per cent more between 2011 to 2020 compared to 2001-2010.

Bob Ward, policy and communications director at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics, told The National the news was “shocking, if not unexpected”.

He added: “Our use of fossil fuels is the main driver of emissions. Climate change is creating growing harm to lives and livelihoods around the world, and we are almost out of time to avoid catastrophic impacts.

“Large parts of the world could become unliveable due to sea level rise, extreme heat and desertification. Hundreds of millions, if not billions, of people could be displaced," added Mr Ward, who is currently in the UAE to attend Cop28, where world leaders are meeting to discuss how to halt climate change.

The WMO report comes days after the release of a previous study by the UN agency, which found 2023 is “virtually certain” to be the warmest on record.

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Mr Ward said: “It is unclear if governments at Cop28 will at last agree to the urgency and scale of action required to avoid catastrophic impacts.

“We will only stop climate change when the world reduces emissions to net zero, and the longer it takes, the worse the impacts will be.”

The report found the remaining glaciers near the equator are in rapid decline and those in Papua, Indonesia, are likely to disappear altogether in the next decade. In Africa, glaciers on the Rwenzori Mountains and Mount Kenya are projected to disappear by 2030, and those on Kilimanjaro by 2040.

“Each decade since the 1990s has been warmer than the previous one and we see no immediate sign of this trend reversing,” said WMO Secretary-General Professor Petteri Taalas.

“We are losing the race to save our melting glaciers and ice sheets.

“This is unequivocally driven by greenhouse gas emissions from human activities,”

He said the world has to cut greenhouse gas emissions as a “top and overriding priority” to prevent climate change spiralling out of control, he said.

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According to WMO, weather and climate-related events were responsible for nearly 94 per cent of all disaster displacement recorded over the last decade.

Of the 27 events with known economic losses exceeding $10 billion in 2022, 16 occurred within the United States and eight in East Asia; 13 of the 27 events were tropical cyclones, eight floods and three wildfires.

While Hurricane Katrina in 2005 remains the world’s costliest weather disaster, the next four most costly events were all hurricanes that occurred in the 2011-2020 decade, and whose greatest impacts were in the United States and/or its territories.

However, in a glimmer of hope, the Antarctic ozone hole was smaller in the 2011-2020 period than during the two previous decades, contradicting recent research that found the hole is still growing.

On average, over the 2011-2020 period, the annual maximum mass deficit was lower than during the previous two decades.

Total ozone values in the Antarctic are projected to return to 1980 values by around 2065, while total springtime ozone is expected to return to 1980 values in the Arctic by approximately 2045.

Updated: December 05, 2023, 8:55 AM