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Oceans now at hottest and most acidic on record, climate agency report warns

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World Meteorological Organisation Secretary-General Petteri Taalas at a news conference to launch a state of global climate report at the UN in Geneva. Photo: Reuters/Denis Balibouse

World Meteorological Organisation Secretary-General Petteri Taalas at a news conference to launch a state of global climate report at the UN in Geneva. Photo: Reuters/Denis Balibouse

World Meteorological Organisation Secretary-General Petteri Taalas at a news conference to launch a state of global climate report at the UN in Geneva. Photo: Reuters/Denis Balibouse

The world’s oceans grew to their warmest and most acidic levels on record last year, the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) said yesterday as United Nations officials warned that war in Ukraine threatened global climate commitments.

Oceans were subject to the most striking extremes as the WMO detailed a range of turmoil wrought by climate change in its annual State of the Global Climate report. It said melting ice sheets had helped push sea levels to new heights in 2021.

“Our climate is changing before our eyes,” WMO secretary-general Petteri Taalas said in a statement.

The report follows the latest UN climate assessment, which warned that humanity must drastically cut its greenhouse gas emissions or face increasingly catastrophic changes to the world’s climate.

Mr Taalas told reporters there was scant airtime for climate challenges as other crises, such as the war in Ukraine, grabbed headlines.

Selwin Hart, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guter- res’s special adviser on climate action, criticised countries that are reneging on climate commitments due to the Ukraine conflict, which has pushed up energy prices and prompted European nations to seek to replace Russia as an energy supplier.

“We are seeing many choices being made by many major economies, which, quite frankly, have the potential to lock in a high-carbon, high-polluting future and will place our climate goals at risk,” Mr Hart told reporters.

On Tuesday, global equity index giant MSCI warned that the world faces a dangerous increase in greenhouse gases if Russian gas is replaced with coal.

The WMO report said levels of climate-warming carbon dioxide and methane in the atmosphere in 2021 surpassed previous records. Globally, the average temperature last year was 1.11 C above the pre-industrial average, as the world edges closer to the 1.5C threshold beyond which the effects of warming are expected to become drastic.

“It is just a matter of time before we see another warmest year on record,” Mr Taalas said.

Oceans bear much of the brunt of warming and emissions. They absorb around 90pc of the planet’s accumulated heat and 23pc of the carbon dioxide emissions from human activity.

They have warmed markedly faster in the last 20 years, hitting a new high in 2021 – and are expected to become even warmer, the report said.

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That change would likely take centuries or millennia to reverse.

Oceans are also now at their most acidic in at least 26,000 years as they absorb and react with more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

The sea level has risen 4.5cm in the last decade, with the annual increase from 2013 to 2021 more than double what it was from 1993 to 2002.

The WMO also listed individual extreme heatwaves, wildfires, floods and other climate-linked disasters around the world, noting reports of more than $100bn (€95.26bn) in damage.

The UN chief yesterday launched a five-point plan to jump-start broader use of renewable energies, hoping to revive world attention on climate change as the UN’s weather agency reported that greenhouse gas concentrations, ocean heat, sea-level rise and ocean acidification reached record highs last year.

“We must end fossil fuel pollution and accelerate the renewable energy transition before we incinerate our only home,” Mr Guterres said. “Time is running out.”

The impact of extreme weather has led to death and disease, migration and economic losses in the hundreds of billions of dollars – and the fallout is continuing this year, the WMO said.

Mr Guterres said: “Today’s State of the Climate report is a dismal litany of humanity’s failure to tackle climate disruption. The global energy system is broken and bringing us ever closer to climate catastrophe.”

In his plan, Mr Guterres called for fostering technology transfer and lifting of intellectual property protection in renewable technologies.

He also wants to broaden access to supply chains and raw materials that go into renewable technologies that are now concentrated in a few powerful countries.

The UN chief further wants governments to reform in ways that can promote renewable energies, such as by fast-tracking solar and wind projects.

He also called for a shift away from government subsidies for fossil fuels that total half-a-trillion dollars a year.  

Mr Guterres concluded by saying investment in renewable energy must triple to at least $4trn a year.  

Government subsidies for fossil fuels are today more than three times higher than for renewables.


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