Report shows world 'way off track' in dealing with climate change

"Time is fast running out for us," said the UN Secretary-General.
"Time is fast running out for us," said the UN Secretary-General. Photo credit: Getty

The head of the United Nations has warned that the world is "way off track" in dealing with climate change.

His comments come as a new report shows that the global average temperature in 2019 was 1.1C above pre-industrial levels.

The State of the Climate report, by the World Meteorological Organisation, found that last year's global average temperature was the second highest on record, coming in behind only 2016, "when a very strong El Niño event contributed to an increased global mean temperature atop the overall warming trend".

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the report highlights the "urgency" facing the world.

"It brings together data from across the fields of climate science and lists the potential future impacts of climate change – from health and economic consequences to decreased food security and increased displacement," he said.

"We are currently way off track to meeting either the 1.5C or 2C targets that the Paris Agreement calls for.

"Given that greenhouse gas levels continue to increase, the warming will continue. A recent decadal forecast indicates that a new annual global temperature record is likely in the next five years. It is a matter of time."

According to the report, the past five years have been the warmest on record, and the past decade also the warmest on record.

"Since the 1980s, each successive decade has been warmer than any preceding one since 1850."

In 2019, oceans were at the hottest on record, with 84 percent of the ocean experiencing at least one marine heatwave.

The report highlighted the Tasman Sea as a "notable area", saying it had recorded marine heatwaves in the summers of 2015/2016, 2017/2018 and again in 2018/2019.

"In late 2019, an extreme MHW [marine heatwave] also affected the area to the east of New Zealand."

Among the concerns expressed in the report was the effect of climate change on food security and displacement of populations.

"Climate variability and extreme weather events are among the key drivers of the recent rise in global hunger and one of the leading causes of severe crises," the report said.

Close to 22 million people were estimated to have been displaced worldwide in 2019 due to climate-related disasters such as floods or storms. 

Guterres called climate change the "defining challenge of our time". 

"Time is fast running out for us to avert the worst impacts of climate disruption and protect our societies from the inevitable impacts to come."