Dire Climate Report Prompts UN Official to Ask Rich Countries to Share Energy Tech

Source: By Eric Roston, Bloomberg • Posted: Wednesday, May 18, 2022

The World Meteorological Organization’s new report catalogs new records for sea-level rise, ocean temperature, greenhouse gas concentrations and ocean acidification.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres. Photographer: Dursun Aydemir/Anadolu Agency/Bloomberg

Last year brought new records for sea-level rise, ocean temperature, greenhouse gas concentrations and ocean acidification, according to a new UN World Meteorological Organization climate report card. The climate crisis is getting worse, and UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres marked the report’s release by calling on rich countries to share the intellectual property for energy technologies that can accelerate the badly-needed transition away from fossil fuels.

Guterres admonished countries to fast-track infrastructure build-out and eliminate bureaucracy that stands in the way. Batteries and related power-storage technology should be treated as “freely available public goods,” he said in a video message. He also singled out fossil fuel subsidies, that “every minute of every day” grant $11 million to coal, oil and gas companies.

Appearing at the report’s launch by video, Guterres called it “a dismal litany of humanity’s failure to tackle climate disruption.”

The report adds detail to the three major assessments published by the UN’s climate-science panel in recent months.

  • Global sea level has risen by an average of 4.5 millimeters a year for 2013-2021, driven mostly by melting ice sheets. Differences in temperature and salinity affect local rates, so the oceans rise at different speeds. Scientists have observed observed accelerated rise in the western North Pacific, southwestern Pacific, South Atlantic and southwestern Indian oceans.
  • Carbon dioxide concentrations peak every year at this time, as Northern Hemisphere vegetation draws down the most important warming gas. CO₂, methane and nitrous oxide are up 149%, 262% and 123% over their pre-industrial levels.
  • Six independently maintained temperature data sets found 2021 to be 1.1° Celsius higher than the second half of the 19th century. A La Niña, or temporary cooling pattern in the Pacific, left last year in the top five to seven hottest years on record.
  • The rising ocean temperature—”which is irreversible on centennial to millennial timescales,” the WMO writes—led 2021 to beat the previous record, set in 2020, for the top two kilometers of water. It’s not only heat that’s a problem. Oceans absorb about 23% of the CO₂ that people emit. That keeps temperatures rising as fast as they otherwise would, but also changes marine chemistry in a way that may prove challenging to many ecosystems.
  • Ozone holes are growing again as climate change exacerbates stratospheric cold spells.
  • Water-related disasters, including storms, flooding and drought, forced 2.6 million people from their homes in just three countries: China, Vietnam and the Philippines.

“We will see many more millions of climate refugees as severe weather events increase in frequency and severity, and with sea level rising every year we will see more and more coastal regions being overcome,” said Shaun Fitzgerald, director of Cambridge’s Centre for Climate Repair.

Guterres’ remarks unified the WMO’s science- and risk-focused report with policy initiatives that he hopes countries will take on.

Public and private renewable-power investments need to triple to at least $4 trillion a year, Guterres said, noting the up-front funding nature that solar and wind power require.  By 2024, he said, development banks and financial institutions should end financing to high-emissions activities.