Dire climate report prompts UN's Guterres to ask rich countries to share energy tech

Mr Antonio Guterres admonished nations to fast-track infrastructure buildout and banish bureaucracy that stands in the way. PHOTO: REUTERS

GENEVA (BLOOMBERG) - Last year brought new records for sea-level rise, ocean temperature, greenhouse gas concentrations and ocean acidification, according to a new UN World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) climate report card.

The climate crisis is getting worse, and UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Wednesday (May 18) marked the report's release by calling on rich countries to share the intellectual property for energy technologies that can accelerate the badly needed transition away from fossil fuels.

Mr Guterres admonished countries to fast-track infrastructure buildout and eliminate bureaucracy that stands in the way. Batteries and related power-storage technology should be treated as "freely available public goods", he said in a video message. He also singled out fossil fuel subsidies that "every minute of every day" grant US$11 million (S$15.25 million) to coal, oil and gas companies.

Appearing at the report's launch by video, Mr Guterres called it "a dismal litany of humanity's failure to tackle climate disruption".

The report adds detail to the three major assessments published by the UN's climate-science panel in recent months.

The global sea level has risen by an average of 4.5mm a year for 2013-2021, driven mostly by melting ice sheets. Differences in temperature and salinity affect local rates, so the oceans rise at different speeds. Scientists have observed accelerated rise in the western North Pacific, south-western Pacific, South Atlantic and south-western Indian oceans.

Carbon dioxide concentrations peak every year at this time, as Northern Hemisphere vegetation draws down the most important warming gas. CO2, methane and nitrous oxide are up 149 per cent, 262 per cent and 123 per cent over their pre-industrial levels.

Six independently maintained temperature data sets found 2021 to be 1.1 deg C higher than the second half of the 19th century. A La Nina, or temporary cooling pattern in the Pacific, left last year in the top five to seven hottest years on record.

The rising ocean temperature - "which is irreversible on centennial to millennial timescales" - led 2021 to beat the previous record, set in 2020, for the top 2km of water.

It is not only heat that is a problem. Oceans absorb 23 per cent of the CO2 that people emit. That keeps temperatures rising as fast as they otherwise would and also changes marine chemistry in a way that may prove challenging to many ecosystems.

Ozone holes are growing again as climate change exacerbates stratospheric cold spells. Water-related disasters, including storms, flooding and drought, forced 2.6 million people from their homes in just three countries: China, Vietnam and the Philippines.

"We will see many more millions of climate refugees as severe weather events increase in frequency and severity, and with sea level rising every year, we will see more and more coastal regions being overcome," said Dr Shaun Fitzgerald, director of Cambridge's Centre for Climate Repair.

Mr Guterres' remarks unified the WMO's science- and risk-focused report with policy initiatives that he hopes countries will take on.

Public and private renewable-power investments need to triple to at least US$4 trillion a year, Mr Guterres said, noting the upfront funding nature that solar and wind power require. By 2024, he said, development banks and financial institutions should end financing to high-emission activities.

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