"We are the first generation to fully understand climate change and the last generation to be able to do something about it."
That's the warning from World Meteorological Association secretary-general Petteri Taalas as his organization released its latest report, The State of the Global Cimate in 2018.
It notes that 2018 is slated to be the fourth warmest year on record, though it was slightly cooler than the three hottest years from 2015 to 2017.
That was due to weak La Niña conditions. In all, the 20 warmest years have occurred over the past 22 years.
“We are not on track to meet climate change targets and rein in temperature increases,” Taalas said. “Greenhouse gas concentrations are once again at record levels and if the current trend continues we may see temperature increases 3 to 5 °C by the end of the century. If we exploit all known fossil fuel resources, the temperature rise will be considerably higher.”
From 2014 to 2018, the average global temperature has been 1.04 °C above the baseline before the Industrial Revolution, according to the report.
Scientists have suggested that if the average reaches 2 °C above that baseline, human beings could lose control over the climate because of naturally occurring feedback loops. These would put Earth on a trajectory to sharply increase greenhouse gas emissions no matter what human beings might do to contain future emissions.
Those feedback loops include the melting of Arctic ice, which would result in northern waters absorbing far more heat, and the potential release of massive amounts of carbon dioxide currently stored in oceans.
The World Meteorological Association report chronicles a litany of extreme weather events in 2018, including floods that displaced 1.4 million people in the southern Indian state of Kerala and killed 230 people in western Japan.
The report also mentions major wildfires in British Columbia, California, and Greece in 2018.