The coronavirus is a disease that has taken over people’s lives over the past couple of weeks but is expected to be a temporary pandemic, with temporary impacts. Climate change, on the other hand, has been there for many years and will be there for many decades to come, and requires continuous action. The United Nations Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres stated this during the presentation of the latest report on the state of the world's climate.
The organization has recalled that, although all necessary attention should be paid to the coronavirus epidemic and its impacts should not be underestimated, this global concern should not lead to a reduction of efforts in the fight against climate change.
The World Meteorological Organization Secretary-General wanted to stress that, despite the unfortunate nature of the epidemic, climate change is much worse. "The virus will have a short-term economic impact, but the losses will be massive if we think about global warming. We are talking about a problem of greater magnitude, with consequences for people's health and our societies that are much more serious," he said.
The UN has referred to various problems that are affecting the entire world and are a consequence of climate change such as the loss of crops in Central America, floods in Argentina and Uruguay, fires in Brazil, Bolivia and Venezuela, hurricanes in the Caribbean among many others... The average global temperature recorded in 2019 was 1.1°C above pre-industrial levels, and the average temperature of the oceans was the highest since records began. Since the 1980s, each new decade has been warmer than all previous ones since 1850.
"Ocean heat is at a record level, with temperatures rising to the equivalent of five Hiroshima bombs per second. We are counting the cost in human lives and livelihoods as droughts, forest fires, floods and extreme storms take their deadly toll. We have no time to lose if we are to avoid a climate catastrophe," Guterres said.
It affects health, food security, housing and the global economy
The consequences of climate change are ecological, social and economic and, as the concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere continue to increase, their effects will be increasingly frequent and extreme. "Many parts of the northern hemisphere have experienced an exceptionally mild winter. The smoke and pollutants from the devastating fires in Australia spread around the world and caused a peak in CO2 concentrations. The temperature records in Antarctica were accompanied by episodes of large-scale ice melting and a glacier fracture, which will have an impact on sea-level rise," Talas said. "This exposes coastal areas and islands to a higher risk of flooding and can cause low-lying areas to be submerged.
Climate change-driven deaths and disease
The report highlights shocking data: in Japan, an intense heatwave led to more than 100 deaths and 18 000 additional hospital admissions. In France, more than 20 000 visits to the emergency department to treat heat-related illnesses were recorded between June and mid-September, and during two major heatwaves, there were 1 462 deaths in the affected regions.
Changes in climatic conditions are also facilitating the transmission of diseases previously confined to tropical areas, and one of the most visible consequences is the increase in the global incidence of dengue fever: the risk of infection affects about half of the world's population.
Climate change also threatens food security, which has deteriorated especially in some African countries with conflict situations and economic instability that add to the incidence of extreme weather events such as droughts and heatwaves.
Hunger affects more than 22 million people
By the end of 2019, an estimated 22.2 million people (6.7 million in Ethiopia, 3.1 million in Kenya, 2.1 million in Somalia, 4.5 million in Southern Sudan and 5.8 million in Sudan) were suffering from a high level of food shortages, only slightly less than during the severe and prolonged drought of 2016 and 2017.
It adds up. 70 000 households in El Salvador affected by the lack of food and clean water More than six million internally displaced persons due to natural disasters. 50 000 families in Guatemala lost almost all their crops. In short, the number of people affected by climate change is almost unmanageable.
"We are currently a long way from meeting the objectives of the Paris Agreement to limit temperature increases to 1.5 or 2°C," writes Guterres in the report's foreword. The UN chief executive is urging a 45% reduction in emissions over the next decade. "This is the only way to limit global warming to 1.5°C.
Note: this article is adapted from the report published on the United Nations website on the presentation of the latest WMO State of the World's Climate Report.