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Climate change, the UN: “Our planet is on the brink of the abyss”

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Climate change, the UN: “Our planet is on the brink of the abyss”

After recording the hottest decade in history, the UN warns that the “planet is on the brink”: last year, temperatures broke all records, heat waves hit the oceans and glaciers suffered dramatic reductions.

This is the catastrophic picture provided by the United Nations World Meteorological Organization in its annual report on the state of the climate. It is a confirmation of preliminary data according to which 2023 was by far the year with the highest temperatures, concluding the “warmest 10-year period on record”, says the WMO report.

According to Secretary General Antonio Guterres, the planet is «on the brink of the abyss. The Earth is calling out for help,” he said, stressing that “fossil fuel pollution is creating off-scale climate chaos” and warning that “changes are accelerating.”

According to the report, last year the average near-surface temperature was 1.45 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, dangerously close to the critical threshold of 1.5 degrees that countries had agreed not to exceed in the agreements on the climate of Paris in 2015.

“We have never been so close to the 1.5 degree limit set by the Paris Agreement,” the head of the WMO, Andrea Celeste Saulo, warned in a note. “The report,” he noted, “should be seen as a red alert for the world.”

Examining the data, the organization found that “records have once again been broken, and in some cases destroyed,” warning that the numbers “have given a disturbing new meaning to the phrase ‘off the charts’.” The problem, the report underlines, is not just the increase in temperatures: «What we have witnessed in 2023, particularly with the unprecedented heat of the ocean, the retreat of glaciers and the loss of Antarctic sea ice, is cause for particular concern.” One particularly worrying finding is that marine heat waves affected nearly a third of the global ocean on an average day last year. By the end of 2023, more than 90% of the oceans will have experienced heat waves at some point during the year, the report said. These more frequent and intense marine heatwaves will have “profound negative repercussions.”

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As for glaciers, they have suffered the greatest ice loss since records began in 1950, “caused by extreme melting in both western North America and Europe.” In Switzerland, where the WMO is based, Alpine glaciers, for example, have lost 10% of their remaining volume in the last two years alone. Antarctic sea ice extent is also “by far the lowest ever recorded.”

Its maximum extent at the end of the southern winter was about a million square kilometers smaller than that of the previous record year, equivalent to the size of France and Germany combined. Continued warming of the oceans, combined with the rapid melting of glaciers and ice sheets, pushed sea levels last year to their highest point since satellite records began in 1993, the report says: the rise of global mean sea level over the past decade (2014-2023) was more than double the rate recorded in the first decade of satellite records.

Dramatic climate change is testing populations around the world, fueling extreme weather events, floods and droughts, which trigger displacement and increase biodiversity loss and food insecurity, the report concludes.

“The climate crisis is THE defining challenge facing humanity and is closely intertwined with the inequality crisis,” Saulo said.

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