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United in Science 2021 - A multi-organization high-level compilation of the latest climate science information

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This report has been compiled by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) on behalf of the United Nations SecretaryGeneral to bring together the latest climate science related updates from a group of key global partner organizations: WMO, Global Carbon Project (GCP), Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), World Health Organization (WHO), the Met Office (United Kingdom, UK) and the jointly sponsored WMO/Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) of UNESCO/International Science Council (ISC) and World Climate Research Programme (WCRP). The content of each chapter is attributable to each respective entity.

Foreword by António Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations

This is a critical year for climate action. This report by the United Nations and global scientific partner organizations provides a holistic assessment of the most recent climate science. The result is an alarming appraisal of just how far off course we are.

We are still significantly off-schedule to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement. This year has seen fossil fuel emissions bounce back, greenhouse gas concentrations continuing to rise and severe human-enhanced weather events that have affected health, lives and livelihoods on every continent. Unless there are immediate, rapid and large-scale reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, limiting warming to 1.5°C will be impossible, with catastrophic consequences for people and the planet on which we depend.

This report is clear. Time is running out. For the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, known as COP26, to be a turning point, we need all countries to commit to net zero emissions by 2050, backed up by concrete long-term strategies, and enhanced Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) which collectively cut global emissions by 45 per cent by 2030, compared to 2010 levels.

We need a breakthrough on protecting people and their livelihoods, with at least half of all public climate finance committed to building resilience and helping people adapt. And we need much greater solidarity, including full delivery of the longstanding climate finance pledge to help developing countries take climate action. There is no alternative if we are to achieve a safer, more sustainable and prosperous future for all.

Foreword by Prof. Petteri Taalas, Secretary-General of the World Meteorological Organization

Throughout the pandemic we have heard that we must “build back better” to set humanity on a more sustainable path, and to avoid the worst impacts of climate change on society and economies. This report shows that so far in 2021, we are not going in the right direction.

Greenhouse gas concentrations – which are already at their highest levels in three million years – have continued to rise, reaching new record highs this year. Fossil fuel emissions in many sectors are back at the same or at even higher levels than before the pandemic. Global temperatures in 2017–2021 are among the warmest of any equivalent period since meteorological measurements, with warming evident in many climate indicators such as sea ice, glacier melt and sea-level rise.

United in Science 2021 delivers on its mission, to present the very latest scientific data and findings related to climate change, to inform policy and decision-makers. This work depends on a global network of scientists and institutions, and on the critical underpinning observation, modelling and research infrastructure, which we must be supported to meet the demands of today’s challenges.

I would like to thank the many expert teams involved in creating this report – most notably from Global Carbon Project, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, World Health Organization, UN Environment, the World Climate Research Programme, and the Met Office (UK) – for their collaboration, uniting the climate science community to deliver the latest essential information, in these unprecedented times.