UN Weather Agency Issues ‘Red Alert’ On Climate Change After Record Heat, Ice-Melt Increases In 2023

(AP) — The United Nations weather agency is sounding a “red alert” about global warming, citing record-smashing increases last year in greenhouse gases, land and water temperatures and melting of glaciers and sea ice, and warning that the world’s efforts to reverse the trend have been inadequate.

The World Meteorological Organization, in a “State of the Global Climate” report released Tuesday, ratcheted up concerns that a much-vaunted climate goal is increasingly in jeopardy: That the world can unite to limit planetary warming to no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) from pre-industrial levels.

“Never have we been so close – albeit on a temporary basis at the moment – to the 1.5° C lower limit of the Paris agreement on climate change,” said Celeste Saulo, the agency’s secretary-general. “The WMO community is sounding the red alert to the world.”

The 12-month period from March 2023 to February 2024 pushed beyond that 1.5-degree limit, averaging 1.56 C (2.81 F) higher, according to the European Union’s Copernicus Climate Service. It said the calendar year 2023 was just below 1.5 C at 1.48 C (2.66 F), but a record hot start to this year pushed beyond that level for the 12-month average.

“Earth’s issuing a distress call,” U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said.

“The latest State of the Global Climate report shows a planet on the brink. Fossil fuel pollution is sending climate chaos off the charts.”

The latest WMO findings are especially stark when compiled in a single report. In 2023, over 90% of ocean waters experienced heat wave conditions at least once. Glaciers monitored since 1950 lost the most ice on record. Antarctic sea ice retreated to its lowest level ever.

“Topping all the bad news, what worries me the most is that the planet is now in a meltdown phase — literally and figuratively given the warming and mass loss from our polar ice sheets,” said Jonathan Overpeck, dean of the University of Michigan School for Environment and Sustainability, who wasn’t involved in the report.

Saulo called the climate crisis “the defining challenge that humanity faces” and said it combines with a crisis of inequality, as seen in growing food insecurity and migration.

WMO said the impact of heatwaves, floods, droughts, wildfires and tropical cyclones, exacerbated by climate change, was felt in lives and livelihoods on every continent in 2023.