UN climate report: World's glaciers melted at dramatic speed in 2022
The United Nations stated on Friday that the world's glaciers dissipated significantly last year and that saving them is essentially a lost cause as climate change indicators once again reached record highs. According to the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) of the UN, the past eight years have been the warmest ever observed, and greenhouse gas concentrations, such as carbon dioxide, have reached new highs.
"Antarctic sea ice fell to its lowest extent on record and the melting of some European glaciers was, literally, off the charts," the WMO spelled out as it launched its annual climate overview.
Sea levels have also reached a new high, rising by an average of 4.62 millimetres annually between 2013 and 2022, which is twice as quickly as it did between 1993 and 2002.
The oceans, where around 90 per cent of the heat trapped on Earth by greenhouse gases ends up, had record-high temperatures.
According to the WMO study, the global mean temperature in 2022 was 1.15 C higher than the 1850–1900 average.
Despite the cooling effects of a long La Nina weather phenomenon that lasted for nearly half of that period, record global mean temperatures for the preceding eight years were nevertheless achieved.
Based on the analysis, global greenhouse gas concentrations hit new highs in 2021.
Globally, carbon dioxide (CO2) concentrations reached 415.7 parts per million, or 149 per cent of pre-industrial levels (1750), while methane concentrations reached 262 per cent and nitrous oxide concentrations reached 124 per cent.
A lost cause?
Between October 2021 and October 2022, the average thickness of the world's reference glaciers—those for which long-term measurements are available—decreased by more than 1.3 metres, a loss far greater than the average over the previous ten years.
Since 1970, there has been a total loss of about 30 metres of thickness.
Due to a combination of insufficient winter snow, a saharan dust invasion in March 2022, and heatwaves between May and early September, the Alps broke records for glacier melt in Europe.
"We have already lost the melting of the glaciers game, because we already have such a high concentration of CO2," WMO chief Petteri Taalas told AFP in an interview.
In the Swiss Alps, "last summer we lost 6.2 percent of the glacier mass, which is the highest amount since records started," he said.
"This is serious," he said, explaining that the disappearance of the glaciers would limit freshwater supplies for humans and for agriculture, and also harm transport links if rivers become less navigable. These kind of things are going to be a big risk for the future," said Taalas.
"Many of these mountain glaciers will disappear, and also the shrinking of the Antarctic and Greenland glaciers will continue for a long-term basis -- unless we create a means to remove CO2 from the atmosphere," he continued.