Extreme weather led to hundreds of billions of dollars in economic losses and took a heavy toll on human life in 2021, the World Meteorological Organisation has said.
The day-to-day “face” of climate change set off shocks for food and water security and displacement that have grown in 2022, the said.
Four important climate change indicators – greenhouse gas concentrations, sea level rise, ocean heat and ocean acidification – set new records last year, in what the WMO described as “yet another clear sign that human activities are causing planetary scale changes on land, in the ocean, and in the atmosphere, with harmful and long-lasting ramifications for sustainable development and ecosystems”.
The annual State of the Global Climate report from the UN body also said the oceans were becoming more acidic as carbon dioxide dissolved into seawater, threatening wildlife.
WMO secretary general Petteri Taalas said extreme weather had the most immediate effects on our daily lives.
“Years of investment in disaster preparedness means that we are better at saving lives, though economic losses are soaring,” said Mr Taalas.
“But much more needs to be done, as we are seeing with the drought emergency unfolding in the Horn of Africa, the recent deadly flooding in South Africa and the extreme heat in India and Pakistan.
“Early warning systems are critically required for climate adaptation, and yet these are only available in less than half of WMO’s members. We are committed to making early warnings reach everyone in the next five years.”
The report also gave a warning that global temperatures increased to 1.1°C above what they were in the 19th century.
Last year was one of the seven warmest on record, lower than other recent years due to the cooling effects of the natural La Nina weather pattern, but the years since 2015 have been the hottest on record.
It is “just a matter of time” before the world reported more record temperatures, Mr Taalas said.
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres described the new report as a “dismal litany of humanity’s failure to tackle climate disruption”.
He called for action to accelerate the shift to renewable energy, including sharing technology, driving forward battery storage for clean power, scaling up supply chains and investment, and halting subsidies for polluting oil, gas and coal.
“The global energy system is broken and bringing us ever closer to climate catastrophe. Fossil fuels are a dead end – environmentally and economically,” Mr Guterres said.
“The war in Ukraine and its immediate effects on energy prices is yet another wake-up call. The only sustainable future is a renewable one.”
In a video message, Mr Guterres proposed five critical actions to jump-start the renewable energy transition. They include greater access to renewable energy technology and supplies, a tripling of private and public investments in renewables and an end to subsidies on fossil fuels that amount to about $11 million a minute.
The annual report from the WMO showed the four key climate indicators set new records in 2021.
Greenhouse gas concentrations reached a global high in 2020, with carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere climbing by 49 per cent above what they were in pre-industrial times, and then continuing to rise in 2021 and into 2022.
Ocean heat also reached record highs in 2021, with warming rates in the top 2,000 metres of the seas increasing over the past two decades and warmth reaching greater depths.
Much of the ocean experienced at least one “strong” marine heatwave in 2021.
Global average sea levels rose to a record high in 2021, the report said.
Seas were rising at an average 4.5 millimetres a year between 2013 and 2021, more than double the rate recorded between 1993 and 2002, as ice loss from the ice sheets accelerated, raising risks for hundreds of millions living in coastal areas.
The report also said the ocean absorbed about a quarter of the annual carbon dioxide emissions from human activity.
The carbon dioxide reacts with water to make the seas more acidic, threatening wildlife and habitats such as coral and hitting food security, tourism and coastal protection provided by reefs.
The assessment, which draws on data from weather and science bodies, as well as UN agencies, also highlighted the exceptional heatwaves that hit last year, with the mercury setting a Canadian record of 49.6°C in British Columbia in June and a provisional European record of 48.8°C in Sicily in August.
Flooding caused heavy loss of life and huge economic losses in places including China and Western Europe, while drought affected many parts of the world, with potentially devastating effects in eastern Africa.
Extreme weather events in 2021 worsened food insecurity and the risk of famine, and displaced millions of people from their homes, the report said.
Rain fell for the first time at Summit Station, the highest point on the Greenland ice sheet, at 3,216 metres.
“Our climate is changing before our eyes. The heat trapped by human-induced greenhouse gases will warm the planet for many generations to come,” Mr Taalas said.
“Sea level rise, ocean heat and acidification will continue for hundreds of years unless means to remove carbon from the atmosphere are invented.
“Some glaciers have reached the point of no return and this will have long-term repercussions in a world in which more than two billion people already experience water stress.”
Dr Shaun Fitzgerald, director of the Centre for Climate Repair at Cambridge, said the report highlighted the threats from climate change.
“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,” he said.
“The need for climate repair has never been greater, and unfortunately that need isn’t going away.”
Reducing emissions is critical, he said, but it will only curb the rate at which the problem was getting worse, so there is need to go “beyond zero emissions” and develop initiatives to remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere.