The past decade has “almost certainly” been the hottest on record and 2019 is on course to be one of the warmest years ever recorded, according to weather experts.
An annual assessment of the Earth’s climate by the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) has painted a bleak picture of vanishing sea ice, devastating heatwaves and encroaching seas ahead of two weeks of talks in Spain aimed at tackling climate change.
“If we do not take urgent climate action now, then we are heading for a temperature increase of more than 3C by the end of the century, with ever more harmful impacts on human wellbeing,” Petteri Taalas, the WMO secretary-general, warned in a statement.
“Heatwaves and floods which used to be ‘once in a century’ events are becoming more regular occurrences,” he added.
The secretary-general also warned of the threat posed to crop yields and “considerable food security challenges for vulnerable countries” from climate change.
Average temperatures from both the last five years (2015-19) and the last 10 years (2010-19) are set to be the highest on record and 2019 is on course to be the second or third warmest year on record.
Arctic sea ice neared record lows in September and October, with Antarctica seeing record lows several times in 2019.
The WMO has warned climate change is a key driver of a recent rise in global hunger after a decade of steady declines, with more than 820 million people suffering from hunger in 2018.
The report also noted that “marine heatwaves”, which have a devastating effect on underwater life, have become more common.
It added that the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere hit a record level of 407.8 parts per million in 2018 and has continued to rise in 2019.
At the start of the COP25 climate summit on Monday, UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres issued a stark warning that the planet was nearer “the point of no return” and called current attempts to combat climate change “utterly inadequate”.
The past year has seen a rise in environmental activism across the world, prompting some major political parties and companies to commit to slashing emissions.
However, experts still face an uphill battle to convince major emitters, such as the US, to embrace radical changes to combat the climate crisis.
The COP25 conference is the first since Mike Pompeo, the US secretary of state, announced that the US was formally withdrawing from the 2015 Paris climate agreement, which sought to commit countries to keeping increases in global average temperatures to below 2C.
Additional reporting by Reuters