Global heating may cause major food supply disruption even before 1.5C temperature rise: UN expert

A top UN official has warned that the world might face a major disruption in food supplies well before the temperature rises by the 1.5C target.

Global air and ocean temperatures are reaching new record highs. Photo Courtesy: WMO/Eneko Perez

Alain-Richard Donwahi, a former Ivory Coast defence minister who led last year’s UN Cop15 summit on desertification, described climate change as a global pandemic which humanity needs to fight immediately.

He was quoted as saying by The Guardian: "Climate change is a pandemic that we need to fight quickly. See how fast the degradation of the climate is going – I think it’s going even faster than we predicted."

"Everyone is fixated on 1.5C [above pre-industrial levels], and it’s a very important target. But actually, some very bad things could happen, in terms of soil degradation, water scarcity and desertification, way before 1.5C," he said.

July's global average temperature was highest

Meanwhile, the global average temperature for July 2023 was the highest on record and likely for at least 120,000 years, the UN weather agency and partners said on Tuesday.

“The global average temperature for July 2023 is confirmed to be the highest on record for any month,” said Samantha Burgess, Deputy Director at the European Commission’s Copernicus Climate Change Service. The month is estimated to have been around 1.5C warmer than the average for 1815 to 1900, so the average for pre-industrial times.”

Briefing journalists in Geneva, Burgess noted that July had been marked by heatwaves “in multiple regions around the world”.

Based on data analysis known as proxy records, which include cave deposits, calcifying organisms, coral and shells, the Copernicus scientist added that it “has not been this warm for the last 120,000 years”.

Records were also broken for global sea surface temperatures, after "unusually high" temperatures this April that led to the ocean surface warming in July to some 0.51C above the 1991-2020 average.

From the UN World Meteorological Organization (WMO), Chris Hewitt, Director of Climate Services, pointed to the agency’s prediction in May that there was a “98 per cent likelihood” that one of the next five years will be one of the warmest on record. He also reiterated that while there was a 66 per cent chance that the 1.5C threshold above the pre-industrial value will be exceeded in this timeframe, this will likely be a “temporary” change.

Temporary or not, any such increase will have “dire consequences for both people and the planet exposed to ever more frequent and intense extreme events,” Burgess warned. “It shows the urgency for ambitious efforts to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions, which are the main driver behind these records.”

WMO’s Hewitt said that it was also important to note that 2015 to 2022 were the “eight warmest years” according to readings going back at least 170 years, despite prevailing La Niña conditions in the Pacific ocean that “tend to reign in the global average temperature and suppress them slightly”.

The WMO added that “the long-term warming trend is driven by continued increases in concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere” which have all reached record observed highs.

“The warmest year on record so far was 2016 and that particular year was associated with a very strong El Niño event on top of the long-term warming of the climate system,” he explained.