The past six years have been the warmest on record since 1880, with 2016, 2019 and 2020 being the top three, according to a World Meteorological Organization (WMO) press release on 15 January. The year 2020 was 1.2°C above pre-industrial era (1880) temperatures.
WMO predicts a 20 per cent probability that temperatures will temporarily exceed 1.5°C as early as 2024.
"The speed at which temperatures are increasing is alarming," says Pascal Peduzzi, Director, GRID-Geneva, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). "At this rate, we may reach +1.5°C in the next 15 years."
According to the Paris Agreement, Member States committed to limit global warming to well below 2°C, preferably to 1.5°C, compared to pre-industrial levels. Every country signing up to the agreement set out a target, known as a nationally determined contribution (NDC) for reducing greenhouse gas emissions by around 2030.
In January this year, António Guterres, the United Nations Secretary-General, said 2021 was a critical year for climate, calling for multilateral action. He urged Member States to submit Nationally Determined Contributions to cut global emissions by 45 per cent by 2030 compared with 2010 levels; donors and multilateral development banks to increase the share of adaptation finance from 20 to at least 50 per cent by 2024, and developed countries to fulfil their pledge to mobilize $100 billion annually for climate action in developing countries.
Guterres also said it was time to stop building new coal power plants and end subsidies to fossil fuels.
Global warming and climate change will be key topics of discussion at the fifth session of the UNEP-hosted UN Environment Assembly this month. The world's highest environmental decision-making body brings together representatives of the 193 Member States of the UN, businesses leaders, civil society and environmentalists from around the world.
Growing momentum for action
In 2020 the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere increased 2.57 parts per million (ppm) reaching 4.14 ppm in December, the highest concentration on record. Carbon-dioxide is the principal greenhouse gas, though methane and nitrous oxide, much more potent greenhouse gases, are also causing global warming.
As temperatures rise, so is the global momentum to address climate change. In the world's largest survey of public opinion on climate change, conducted recently, a majority of people called for wide-ranging climate action. Covering 50 countries with over half of the world's population, the survey included over half a million people under the age of 18, a key constituency on climate change that is typically unable to vote in regular elections.
The speed at which temperatures are increasing is alarming. At this rate, we may reach +1.5°C in the next 15 years. Pascal Peduzzi, Director, GRID-Geneva, UNEP
The United Nations Environment Programme's (UNEP) World Environment Situation Room, set up in 2019, is a demonstration platform put together by a consortium of Big Data partners. It includes geo-referenced, remote-sensing and earth observation information and collates climate data in near real-time.