WMO Statement Details Accelerating Climate Impacts for 2018

Leila Mead

The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) has published its 25th WMO Statement on the State of the Global Climate, which was first issued in 1994. The 2019 edition assesses 2018 data, and highlights an increasing number of natural disasters and dangers linked to climate change.
The ‘WMO Statement on the State of the Global Climate in 2018’ concludes that the physical signs and socioeconomic impacts of climate change are accelerating as record greenhouse gas (GHG) concentrations drive the increase in global temperatures towards dangerous levels. It highlights record sea level rise, and exceptionally high land and ocean temperatures over the past four years.
The Statement includes input from national meteorological and hydrological services, scientific experts and UN agencies. It catalogues extreme weather around the world, and addresses climate-related risks and impacts on human health and welfare, migration and displacement, food security, the environment, and ocean and land-based ecosystems.
The report notes that, in 2018, natural hazards affected nearly 62 million people and were mainly associated with extreme weather and climate events, with floods affecting more than 35 million people. Intense heat waves and wildfires in Europe, Japan and the US led to more than 1,600 death in 2018.
In 2017, the number of undernourished people was approximately 821 million, partly due to droughts associated with the 2015-2016 El Niño. As of September 2018, over two million people were displaced from disasters linked to weather and climate events, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM). According to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), around 883,000 internal displacements were recorded between January and December 2018, with 32% associated with flooding and 29% with drought.
There is a need for a holistic understanding of the socioeconomic consequences of increasingly intense extreme weather on countries.
On environmental impacts, the Statement highlights that climate change has become a significant threat to peatland ecosystems, as it exacerbates the effects of drainage and increases fire risk. Peatlands contribute significantly to climate change mitigation and adaptation through, inter alia, carbon sequestration and storage, biodiversity conservation, and water regime and quality regulation.
The report describes changes in climate indicators related to ocean heat, sea level, ocean acidification, sea ice and glacier retreat. For example, 2018 saw new records for ocean heat content in the upper 700 meters and upper 2,000 meters, surpassing the record set in 2017. Global mean sea level for 2018 was around 3.7 millimeters higher than in 2017, and the highest on record. Arctic sea ice extent was below average throughout 2018, and Antarctic sea ice declined at a rapid rate, with monthly extents ranking among the five smallest for each month through the end of 2018.
Speaking during the launch of the report at UN Headquarters in New York, US, on 28 March 2019, UN Secretary-General António Guterres reiterated that climate change is moving faster than efforts to address it. He welcomed initiatives from governments, cities and businesses that have embraced “Agenda 2030-inspired climate solutions” to strengthen economies, improve air quality and public health and protect the environment.
The WMO Statement will be one of WMO’s contributions to the UN Secretary-General’s Climate Action Summit on 23 September 2019. Guterres called on Heads of State to “come with a plan,” not a “speech,” and hoped the Summit would demonstrate the benefits of climate action.
General Assembly President Maria Fernanda Espinosa underscored the need for “a holistic understanding of the socioeconomic consequences of increasingly intense extreme weather on countries.”
Outlining the report’s main findings, WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas described evidence of record warming from 2015 to 2018, increasing sea level rise and the loss of sea ice in the northern and southern polar regions. He acknowledged that tropical cyclone Idai, which recently hit Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi, may be one of the deadliest weather-related disasters to affect the southern hemisphere. He said such extreme events show why a global agenda on sustainable development, climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction (DRR) is necessary.
Taalas said 2018 saw 14 weather events with devastation costing more than USD 1 billion, with the average number of people exposed to heatwaves increasing by around 125 million since the beginning of the century.
According to the Statement, the beginning of 2019 has seen record warm daily winter temperatures in Europe, unusual cold in North America, heatwaves in Australia and below average ice extent in the Arctic and Antarctic. Through May, the WMO forecasts above-average sea surface temperatures, which are expected to lead to above-normal land temperature, particularly in tropical latitudes.

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