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Climate change: there’s still time to act!

The World Meteorological Organisation (WMO), in its report The State of the Global Climate 2021 published on 18 May 2022, states that four key indicators of climate change – the concentration of greenhouse gas, rising sea levels, the warming of oceans, and their acidification – reached new records in 2021. The climate change before our eyes and the changes required are so dramatic and global that we may feel helpless to do anything. However, solutions exist to limit climate change. In the third section of its 6th report (“Mitigation of climate change”), the IPCC describes a range of concrete measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHG).

Warning signs

The changes caused by human activities on the global scale and their impacts on food security, water supply, the economy and ecosystems in particular, are henceforth tangible realities. Illustrating the climate change indicators used in the IPCC reports, the WMO (the United Nations organisation acknowledged for its expertise regarding the weather, the climate and water) draws a gloomy picture of the state of our planet:

  • Greenhouse gas concentrations continued to increase in 2021, after having reached record levels in 2020.
  • Although 2021 was slightly cooler than previous years due to La Niña episodes that cooled the atmosphere, it was 1.11°C higher than the preindustrial average (period 1850-1900). The seven previous years, from 2015 to 2019, were the hottest ever recorded.
  • The oceans continue to warm, down to a depth of 2,000 metres, and it is forecast that this trend will continue, leading to an irreversible change for several centuries and even millennia. They also continue to acidify, due to the absorption of CO2 from the atmosphere. The oceans absorb about 23% of annual atmospheric emissions of CO2of anthropic origin.
  • The average level of the sea on the global scale reached a new record in 2021, after having risen by an average of 4.5 mm a year between 2013 and 2021, i.e. at a pace double that of the previous decade. This can be explained mainly by the acceleration of the loss of mass of the ice caps. The glaciers have lost 33.5 metres in depth (ice equivalent) since 1950 and Greenland underwent an exceptional episode of thawing in August 2021.
  • Extreme meteorological conditions, which are the daily reflection of climate change, no longer spare any of the continents: heatwaves in California and Canada; floods in China and Western Europe; droughts in many regions of the world. It hasn’t rained in East Africa, Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia for four years running, and they are undergoing the longest drought episode for the last 40 years.

It’s only a question of time before another year becomes the hottest ever recorded”, according to the General Secretary of the WMO, Petteri Taalas.

Petteri Taalas recalled that the effect of climate change will occur over several generations: “Rising sea levels, ocean warming and acidification will continue for hundreds of years if we do not invent the means to eliminate carbon from the atmosphere. Certain glaciers have reached the point of no return, which will have long-term impacts in a world where two billion people are already experiencing water shortages.

The increase of atmospheric concentrations of CO2 leads to cascade effects and contributes to events with considerable impacts that make it difficult to reach the sustainable development goals (SDG).

Doing away with fossil fuels

World electricity generation mix by fuel, 1971-2019 (IEA. All Rights Reserved)

Criticising “humanity’s lamentable and recurrent incapacity to attack climate change”, the General Secretary of the United Nations, António Guterres, took advantage of the report’s publication to call for the transformation of energy systems to renewable energies. But how? By increasing investments, by increasing access to facilities and technologies around the world, and by ceasing to allocate subsidies to fossil fuels (coal, oil, gas). The latter reached $11 million a minute in the United States.



The latest report from the IPCC, published on 4 April, emphasised that greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions have continued to increase since 2010, and still more rapidly between 2010 and 2019. In 2019, 48% of populations lived in countries emitting more than 6 TCO2/person. In addition, the development of the least advanced countries, which currently emit less than 3 TCO2/person, leads to the hypothesis of a significant increase of their GHG in the short term.

This observation points to two imperatives:

  • Increased solidarity between the countries of the North and the South: the natural heritage of the planet must be shared more fairly, with greater sobriety for the wealthy countries and sustainable development for the less advanced ones to achieve “wellbeing for all without exceeding the limits of the planet”;
  • The urgent need to act: if a fast and dramatic reduction of GHG does not start before 2030- 2040, the increase of GHG will continue, leading to an increase in temperature of about 3.2° C by 2100.

It’s now or never, if we want to limit climate change to 1.5 °C, without immediate and dramatic reductions of emissions in every sector, it will be impossible – Jim Skea, vice-chairman of IPCC workgroup III.

It’s still possible to reduce emission by half from now to 2030, according to the IPCC, which exhorts governments to intensify their actions to reduce emissions. The tipping point is 2025 at the latest to stop their progression and from now to 2030 to reduce them by 43%, to limit global warming to 1.5°C. The significant fall in the cost of renewable energies since 2010, as much as 85% for solar and wind power, and batteries, is proof that we act quickly.

Limiting the global rise of temperatures requires less carbon energy as well as techniques to eliminate CO2, the IPCC experts explain: plantations of trees, the extraction CO2 from the atmosphere. Finally, sobriety must be the master word in every sector of activity to reduce energy demand: diets with less meat, better insulated housing, soft mobility, teleworking, etc.

The range of tools must be as wide as the challenges are great. The levers are above all financial: in every scenario studied by the IPCC, the investments required to keep the increase in temperature to within 1.5 and 2° C during the period 2020-2030 must be increased by a factor from three to six. The levers are also technological and institutional.

The resources and knowhow needed are here. Ambitious policies and solutions remain to be implemented to quickly transform modes of production and the consumption of resources.


Discover the key facts of the WMO report in 1mn30

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