“Our climate is changing before our eyes,” says WMO upon release of new report

A tour group gathers near meltwater running past the retreating Russell Glacier, part of the Greenland Ice Sheet, on September 09, 2021 near Kangerlussuaq, Greenland. Rain was observed at the summit of the Greenland ice sheet for the first time in 2021. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Rain on the Greenland ice sheet in the Arctic and the growing ozone hole over Antarctica were just two of the indicators marking the continued impacts of human activity on the planet, a report released by the World Meteorological Organization said. 

It is just a matter of time before we see another warmest year on record,”  WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas said on Wednesday when the report was released. “Our climate is changing before our eyes.”

The WMO State of the Global Climate in 2021 report said new records were set when it came to greenhouse gas concentrations, sea level rise, ocean heat and ocean acidification, and that the last seven years were the warmest on record.

“The heat trapped by human-induced greenhouse gases will warm the planet for many generations to come,” Taalas said. “Sea level rise, ocean heat and acidification will continue for hundreds of years unless means to remove carbon from the atmosphere are invented.”

Key findings in WMO report
People soak up the heat at Spanish Banks Beach in the Canadian city of Vancouver during a western North American heatwave in 2021 that even reached Yukon and the Northwest Territories in northern Canada. (Ben Nelms/CBC)
  • Global mean sea level has risen 4.5 mm per year on average over the period 2013–2021
  • 2015 to 2021 were the seven warmest years on record, with the 2021 global mean temperature 1.11 ± 0.13 °C above the 1850–1900 pre-industrial average
  • ocean heat content in 2021 was the highest on record with warming rates particularly strong increase in the past two decades
  • greenhouse gas concentrations reached a high in 2020, when the concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) reached 413.2 parts per million (ppm) globally, or 149% of the pre-industrial level

Source: WMO State of the Global Climate 2021

“Punishing” year for Canada’s glaciers

The year 2020-2021 saw less glacier melt than in recent years, the report said, but described the acceleration of glacier mass loss over decades as still “a clear trend.”

“On average, the reference glaciers have thinned by 33.5 m (ice equivalent) since 1950, with 76% of this thinning (25.5 m) occurring since 1980,” the report said.

A melting glacier. “Some glaciers have reached the point of no return and this will have long-term repercussions in a world in which more than 2 billion people already experience water stress,” WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas said. (François Gagnon/Radio-Canada)

In Canada and the pacific northwest in the United States, record ice mass loss was logged due to fires and heatwaves in June and July, the WMO said.

“An exceptionally warm, dry northern hemisphere summer in 2021 exacerbated mass loss for most glaciers in Alberta and southern British Columbia in Canada, and the Pacific Northwest of the United States of America,” the report said.

“In the Coast Mountains of British Columbia, Place and Helm Glaciers lost more mass during the period 2020–2021 than in any year since measurements began in 1965.”

Rain on Greenland ice sheet 

Meanwhile, rain was recorded at Summit Station on the Greenland Ice Sheet for the first time.

“On 14 August, rain was observed for several hours at Summit Station, the highest point on the Greenland ice sheet (3 216 m), and air temperatures remained above freezing for about nine hours,” the report said. “There is no previous report of rainfall at Summit, and this is the latest date in the year that above-freezing temperatures have been recorded at this location.”

The WMO’s Petteri Taalas warned glacier melt would have implications for the entire planet. 

“Some glaciers have reached the point of no return and this will have long-term repercussions in a world in which more than 2 billion people already experience water stress,” he said. 

Ozone hole over Antarctica 

The WMO said despite the 1989 Montreal Protocol that phased out substances like halons and chlorofluorocarbons dangerous to the ozone layer, levels of these materials remain in the atmosphere.

View of Cuverville Island, in the western Antarctic peninsula in March 2016. (Eitan Abramovich/AFP/Getty Images)

The report described the ozone hole over Antarctica in 2021 as “… larger and deeper than 70 per cent of the ozone holes since 1979…” It reached 24 million km2 on September 24 and stayed approximately the same size until mid-October.

“Even if there were no new emissions, there is still more than enough chlorine and bromine present to cause the complete destruction of ozone over Antarctica from August to December,” the report said.

“As a result, the formation of the Antarctic ozone hole – an area of low ozone concentration – continues to be an annual spring event, with the year-to-year variation in its size and depth governed to a large degree by meteorological conditions.”

The WMO global climate report is released annually and is put together with information from institutions, UN agencies, weather and meteorological services and climate research centres around the the world.

Write to Eilís Quinn at eilis.quinn(at)cbc.ca

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: Canada releases plan for a 40 per cent cut in carbon emissions by 2030, CBC News

Finland: The world could transition entirely to cheap, safe renewable energy before 2050: Finnish study, Yle News

Greenland: Melting of Greenland glacier generating its own heat and accelerating thaw from base, says study, Eye on the Arctic

Norway: Will the green transition be the new economic motor in the Arctic?, Eye on the Arctic

Sweden: Sweden’s climate policies closer to reaching goals, Radio Sweden

Eilís Quinn, Eye on the Arctic

Eilís Quinn is an award-winning journalist and manages Radio Canada International’s Eye on the Arctic news cooperation project. Eilís has reported from the Arctic regions of all eight circumpolar countries and has produced numerous documentary and multimedia series about climate change and the issues facing Indigenous peoples in the North.

Her investigative report "Death in the Arctic: A community grieves, a father fights for change," about the murder of Robert Adams, a 19-year-old Inuk man from Arctic Quebec, received the silver medal for “Best Investigative Article or Series” at the 2019 Canadian Online Publishing Awards. The project also received an honourable mention for excellence in reporting on trauma at the 2019 Dart Awards in New York City.

Her report “The Arctic Railway: Building a future or destroying a culture?” on the impact a multi-billion euro infrastructure project would have on Indigenous communities in Arctic Europe was a finalist at the 2019 Canadian Association of Journalists award in the online investigative category.

Her multimedia project on the health challenges in the Canadian Arctic, "Bridging the Divide," was a finalist at the 2012 Webby Awards.

Her work on climate change in the Arctic has also been featured on the TV science program Découverte, as well as Le Téléjournal, the French-Language CBC’s flagship news cast.

Eilís has worked for media organizations in Canada and the United States and as a TV host for the Discovery/BBC Worldwide series "Best in China."

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