Synthesis report prompts international calls for scaled-up actions by governments

‘All of the climate parameters are moving in totally the wrong direction’ - WMO

What were once theoretical risks from human-induced global warming have materialised, and the world is heading towards a global average temperature rise of 3.5 degrees this century, the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) warned following the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

The report “echoes the findings of all of the IPCC assessment reports since 1990. Now with a much higher tone: the earlier theoretical risks have materialised. Climate change is already visible and its human, economic and social problems are growing,” said WMO chief executive Prof Petteri Taalas.

What is known as the synthesis report indicated the world was heading towards 2.2-3.5 degrees of warming, he said. “Warming of 3 degrees would have dramatic impact on human health, the biosphere, food security and the global economy. Many of those risks could be avoided if we would stay within 1.5 degrees warming.”

WMO will shortly publish its 2023 state of the global climate report “where we will show all of the climate parameters are moving in totally the wrong direction: ocean warming, ocean acidification, melting of glaciers, sea level rise, flooding and drought events, and concentrations of carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide”, he confirmed


The IPCC had reinforced the message that it was much more rational to limit climate change as compared to inaction or to face its consequences, he said. “The good news is that we have both economically and technically attractive means to limit the warming level even to 1.5 degrees, and the transition is also a great opportunity for new businesses and financial savings.”

In addition to cutting emissions there was need to accelerate climate adaptation, he said, noting “early warning systems are a cost-effective and efficient adaptation tool”.

Dr Chris Jones of Met Office Hadley Centre in the UK, and a member of the report’s core writing team, said it revealed the sheer scale of ambition required to avoid the worst consequences of climate change. “We know that climate change is already happening, and the world has already witnessed extreme events associated with the relatively modest warming we have seen so far. In fact, the world now is the coolest it is going to be, at least for many decades.

Climate change graphic

“The report underscores the need for urgent action – today’s decisions have implications for future generations. Without immediate and equitable mitigation and adaptation, climate change increasingly threatens societies and human wellbeing,” he said.

But it also showed the range of currently available and cost-effective mitigation and adaptation options. “Renewed efforts to invest in sustainable development give us the best chance of a climate-resilient future,” he suggested.

Kaisa Kosonen, a climate expert at Greenpeace International, said: “This report is definitely a final warning on 1.5 degrees. If governments just stay on their current policies, the remaining carbon budget will be used up before the next IPCC report [due in 2030].”

Christian Aid’s chief of policy, Oliver Pearce, said it confirmed the collective failure of world leaders to achieve a safe and secure future for all.

He added: “The science is clear, the world is not on track to deal with the biggest threat posed to humankind. If politicians continue to take us down this path, we face the prospect of worsening droughts, floods and storms with the poorest and most vulnerable people bearing the brunt.

“That is why it’s imperative that nations start to provide money, following the agreement to create a loss and damage fund last year, so that financial support can urgently reach the most vulnerable communities.”

Director of the Global Climate and Health Alliance Dr Jeni Miller said that because of delayed climate action by governments, temperatures far in excess of the 1.5-degree target of the Paris Agreement were facing the world. “Left unchecked, it will be impossible to adapt quickly or extensively enough to outrun the climate tipping points and impacts expected from such uncontrolled warming.

“The IPCC makes clear that governments must make stronger commitments this year that accelerate mitigation,” she added. “Fossil fuels have got to go.”

Because governments had failed to prevent the harms to human health and wellbeing that are already occurring, the level of care and preparation must be stepped up, with significant investments in adaptation, resilience, and loss and damage, she said.

Continued failure to mitigate against climate change “is quickly taking us toward a planet that could become uninhabitable”, she believed. “But bold action by governments this year can still avert catastrophic climate change, prevent untold human suffering, and deliver a healthier and more equitable future.”

Prof Daniela Schmidt of University of Bristol said it was time to acknowledge that the 10 per cent of highest-emitting households contributed about 40 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions, whereas “the poorest 50 per cent contribute only a fraction but will experience hunger, droughts and floods if we do not dramatically reduce emissions”.

“The burden of our lack of action is carried by those who are young today and have not caused the problem. We are accepting that children in the most vulnerable regions in the world will have a challenging future,” she noted.

Director of Power Shift Africa Mohamed Adow said the report was important for the whole world “but nowhere is it more important than for Africa, which is on the front line of the climate crisis”.

“Africans are experiencing the worst impacts of climate breakdown, from floods, storms and droughts, like the one that is currently killing people in East Africa. It is clear that without rapid action this suffering will increase,” he said.

“The good news is that we have affordable clean energy and the technology to decarbonise the world’s energy system. What we need now is to see this harnessed at greater speed and scale to usher in a secure and prosperous future for us all.”

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan is Environment and Science Editor and former editor of The Irish Times