The past eight years are on track to be the hottest ever recorded, a United Nations report has found, as UN chief António Guterres warned that the planet was sending “a distress signal.”
The UN’s weather and climate body released its annual state of the global climate report on Sunday, with another warning that the target to limit temperature increases to 1.5 °C (2.7 °F) was “barely within reach.”
The findings were published during the COP27 opening session in Sharm el-Sheikh, where the issue of “loss and damage” was put on the formal agenda for the first time.
Loss and damage refer to the call for funding by wealthy countries for developing nations suffering the direct consequences of climate change. The importance of the matter has grown drastically after a succession of extreme weather events impacted coastal and low-lying cities, including devastating flooding in Pakistan and Nigeria most recently.
“As COP27 gets underway, our planet is sending a distress signal,” said UN secretary-general António Guterres, describing the report as a “chronicle of climate chaos.”
“Change is happening with catastrophic speed — devastating lives and livelihoods on every continent,” he said.
This year is on track to be the fifth or sixth warmest ever recorded despite the impact since 2020 of La Niña, a periodic and naturally occurring phenomenon in the Pacific that cools the atmosphere.
“All the climatic indications are negative,” said World Meteorological Organisation head Petteri Taalas from Sharm el-Sheikh. “We have broken records in main greenhouse gas concentrations, carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide (levels).”
“I think the combination of the facts that we are bringing to the table and the fact that we have started seeing impacts of climate change worldwide … are wake-up calls, and that’s why we have this climate conference,” he said.
The UK on Sunday formally handed over the COP presidency to Egypt, with the agenda for the summit negotiations approved 48 before the event started. More than 50,000 representatives of government, agencies, civil society and media are expected to attend over the course of the event.
UK prime minister Rishi Sunak, who made a last-minute u-turn to attend COP27, urged other countries to “deliver” on the pledges made at COP26 in Glasgow. “Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and contemptible manipulation of energy prices has only reinforced the importance of ending our dependence on fossil fuels,” he said in a speech
Incoming Egyptian COP president Sameh Shoukry praised the inclusion of loss and damage on the agenda and described “change” in the position of certain countries ready to grapple with it.
Simon Stiell, who was recently appointed head of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), said countries now needed to decide the extent to which “politics” would influence the “progress that we need to make.”
Sea level rise is a particular threat to small island nations, such as The Bahamas and Barbados. In their opening remarks, the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) said the loss and damage agenda item was “the floor of what is acceptable; it is our bare minimum”.
The group wants a loss and damage response fund to be created at COP27 that would be operational “by 2024”. “We are not asking for favours,” AOSIS said in a statement. “We will not be silent victims to the cost of pollution created by others, for the profit of the few.”
Surface water in the ocean hit record-high temperatures in 2021 after warming rapidly over the past 20 years. Surface water is responsible for soaking up more than 90% of accumulated heat from human carbon emissions.
Marine heat waves have also risen, impacting coral reefs and the half-billion people who depend on them for food and their livelihoods. The report warned that more than 50% of the ocean surface experienced at least one marine heatwave in 2022.
Sea level rise has also doubled in the past 30 years as ice sheets and glaciers melted at a fast pace. The phenomenon threatens tens of millions of people living in low-lying coastal areas.
Increases in global temperatures will also have significant impacts on fragile supply chains, leading to considerable costs for businesses along with shortages of key materials or products. With these changes, it’s important for businesses to work on building resilience into these chains as they look to the future.
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