The ‘State of the Global Climate 2020’ report, released on Monday, said that extreme weather combined with COVID-19 dealt a double blow for millions of people in 2020.
However, the pandemic-related economic slowdown failed to put a brake on climate change drivers and accelerating impacts.
The year 2020 was one of the three warmest years on record, despite a cooling La Nina event. The global average temperature was about 1.2 degree Celsius above the pre-industrial (1850-1900) level.
The six years since 2015 have been the warmest on record. 2011-2020 was the warmest decade on record.
“This is a frightening report. It needs to be read by all leaders and decision-makers in the world. 2020 was an unprecedented year for people and the planet. It was dominated by the COVID-19 pandemic. But this report shows that 2020 was also another unprecedented year of extreme weather and climate disasters,” UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said at the launch of the report compiled by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO).
The report added that with 30 named storms, the 2020 North Atlantic hurricane season had its largest number of named storms on record.
“Cyclone Amphan, which made landfall on May 20 near the India-Bangladesh border in the eastern Bay of Bengal, was the costliest tropical cyclone on record for the North Indian Ocean, with reported economic losses in India of approximately USD 14 billion,” it said.
“Large-scale evacuations of coastal areas in India and Bangladesh meant that casualties from Amphan were far lower than the number of casualties from previous comparable cyclones in the region. Nevertheless, 129 lives were lost across the two countries,” it said.
About 2.4 million people were displaced in India, mostly in West Bengal and Odisha, and 2.5 million were displaced in Bangladesh due to the cyclone, it added.
The report also noted that India had one of its two wettest monsoon seasons since 1994, with nationally-averaged rainfall for June to September 9 per cent above the long-term average. Heavy rain, flooding and landslides also affected the surrounding countries.
More than 2 000 deaths were reported during the monsoon season in India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Myanmar, including 145 deaths associated with flash flooding in Afghanistan in late August and 166 deaths associated with a landslide at a mine in Myanmar in early July following heavy rain.
During a press conference at the launch of the report, Guterres was asked if he sees a possibility of agreement between the world’s major emitters on issues such as fossil fuels and the global carbon market.
“It is my belief that an agreement is possible. That agreement needs to take into account the legitimate concerns of developing countries, but I feel it is perfectly possible to combine, taking into account those concerns and the principle of common and differentiated responsibilities according to national capabilities; but, at the same time, very ambitious targets in order to make sure that we have a carbon market that is not, I would say, climate washing – I mean, that is, indeed, demanding with the objective of reducing emissions.
“So, I think it is possible, but it requires a commitment from all sides, on one hand, United States, European Union, Japan; on the other hand, Brazil, China, India… I think the agreement is possible, but it requires a serious spirit of compromise,” the UN chief said.
He said that all fossil fuels contribute to climate change, but coal is the worst, and “so our absolute priority now is in relation to coal to make sure that there are no more coal power plants, that no more international finance for coal,” he said, adding that countries that are largely dependant on coal need to have support in order to be able to shift from coal to renewable energy.
In response to another question on how the concept of net zero emissions targets by 2050 reconcile with the principle of Common But Differentiated Responsibilities, Guterres said there is need for an agreement on very ambitious targets on mitigation, a very strong support to adaptation in the developing countries and a large effort of solidarity of developed countries with developing countries in finance and technology.
“Today, it is cheaper to produce electricity with renewables than in fossil fuels, and it’s a risk to have developing countries still investing in coal power plants that will be soon stranded assets. We have more and more situations in the world. I believe it’s already the case in countries like India and China in which it is cheaper to create a new solar power plant than just to keep running several of the coal power plants that exist,” he said.
Guterres noted that the economy “is on our side; the technology is on our side, but we need the solidarity of developed countries with the developing world to allow, through the principle of Common but Differentiated Responsibilities and taking profit of the national capabilities, to allow exactly for this compromise to be possible.”