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The last decade was the hottest decade in recorded history 

A comprehensive report from the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) confirms that the last decade was the hottest on record. 

The Global Climate 2011-2020: A Decade of Acceleration reveals an alarming acceleration in the rate of climate change during this time period.

The hottest decade

Released at the UN Climate Change Conference (COP28), the report highlights the urgent need for more ambitious climate action to limit global temperature rise to no more than 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. 

The WMO found that 2020 was one of the warmest years of the decade as well as 2016, which was due to a strong El Niño event. The largest temperature deviations for the decade – places more than 2 °C above the 1981-2010 average – were in the Arctic.

The authors emphasize the concerning transformation of polar regions and high mountains, including record rates of ice melt and sea level rise fueled by rising concentrations of greenhouse gases.

One of the most striking findings is the rate at which glaciers have thinned, averaging around one meter per year. The unprecedented losses pose significant long-term threats to water supplies for millions globally. 

The Antarctic continental ice sheet’s ice loss increased by nearly 75% between 2011-2020 compared to the previous decade, signaling a troubling trend for future sea level rise and the consequent risk to low-lying coastal regions.

Despite these alarming trends, the report offers a glimmer of hope regarding the Antarctic ozone hole. It was smaller during the 2011-2020 period than in the two preceding decades. This positive outcome is attributed to international efforts to phase out ozone-depleting chemicals under the Montreal Protocol.

Greenhouse gas emissions 

“Each decade since the 1990s has been warmer than the previous one and we see no immediate sign of this trend reversing. More countries reported record high temperatures than in any other decade. Our ocean is warming faster and faster and the rate of sea level rise has nearly doubled in less than a generation. We are losing the race to save our melting glaciers and ice sheets,” said WMO Secretary-General Professor Petteri Taalas.

“This is unequivocally driven by greenhouse gas emissions from human activities. We have to cut greenhouse gas emissions as a top and overriding priority for the planet in order to prevent climate change spiraling out of control.”

“Our weather is becoming more extreme, with a clear and demonstrable impact on socio-economic development. Droughts, heatwaves, floods, tropical cyclones and wildfires damage infrastructure, destroy agricultural yields, limit water supplies and cause mass displacements. Numerous studies show that, in particular, the risk of intense heat has significantly increased in the past decade.”

Extreme events

The report documents the devastating impact of extreme events on food security, displacement, migration, and the hindrance of progress toward the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). 

The experts note that improvements in forecasts, early warnings, disaster management, and response are making a difference, with a decline in casualties from extreme events despite increased economic losses.

Financial aspects are also addressed, with the report stating that public and private climate finance almost doubled between 2011 and 2020. However, the authors emphasize the need for a substantial increase in funding to meet climate objectives.

Key findings from the hottest decade

The report is based on analyses and assessments from numerous experts, including those at National Meteorological and Hydrological Services, Regional Climate Centres, and UN partners. 

Key findings include the record-breaking global mean temperature for 2011-2020, the consistent warming trend across successive decades, and the alarming increases in greenhouse gas concentrations. The authors also highlight the increased rates of ocean warming and acidification, the frequency and intensity of marine heatwaves, and the accelerating global mean sea level rise. 

In summary, the WMO report serves as a crucial reminder of the accelerated pace and complex impact of climate change. It calls for urgent global action to mitigate these changes, including the need for a sustainable reduction in emissions and ambitious climate policies to safeguard our planet’s future.

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