We are on the verge of climate ‘abyss’, UN chief warns as temperature rise continues

A United Nations report has warned of time running out to tackle the climate crisis, with the COVID-19 pandemic having failed to put the brakes on “relentless” climate change.

In a “double blow” to millions hit by the extreme climate events, lockdown restrictions linked to the global coronavirus pandemic also delayed crucial assistance in some regions, said the report by the UN’s World Meteorological Organization (WMO).

The UN stressed that the year 2021 must be the year of action for protecting people against the “disastrous” effects of climate change.

The call comes ahead of US President Joe Biden’s climate summit on Thursday and Friday.

Forty world leaders have been invited to attend Biden’s virtual talks aimed at galvanising efforts by the major economies to tackle the climate crisis.

“We are on the verge of the abyss,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told a press conference as he unveiled the State of the Global Climate 2020 report by the WMO on Monday.

“This is truly a pivotal year for humanity’s future. And this report shows we have no time to waste, climate disruption is here,” Guterres said, as he urged countries to “end our war on nature”.

The report described 2020 as one of the hottest years on record, about 1.2 degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial period, ranking it somewhere in the top three hottest years alongside 2016 and 2019, despite cooling La Niña conditions.

Concentrations of the major greenhouse gases – carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide – continued to increase, the report said, despite the temporary reduction in emissions in 2020 related to the COVID-19 pandemic, which shredded economies.

Among the indicators highlighted were record low Arctic sea-ice extents in two months of 2020. About 80 percent of the ocean experienced at least one marine heatwave last year.

“This is the year for action. Countries need to commit to net zero emissions by 2050,” the UN chief said. “They need to act now to protect people against the disastrous effects of climate change.”