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U.N. pushes renewables with new warming records

The U.N. weather agency confirmed the past seven years were the hottest on record in a new report that will serve as the basis for global climate negotiations.

The World Meteorological Organization's headquarters in Geneva
The World Meteorological Organization's headquarters in Geneva (AN/J. Heilprin)

GENEVA (AN) — The United Nations weather agency confirmed the past seven years were the hottest on record in a new report on Wednesday that will serve as the basis for global negotiations at the U.N. climate summit hosted by Egypt in November.

The World Meteorological Organization said new records were set last year in greenhouse gas concentrations, sea level rise, ocean heat and ocean acidification, while extreme weather took a heavy toll in human lives and economic losses.

Global mean sea level, for example, increased at more than double the previous rate mainly because of accelerating loss of ice mass. At least one strong marine heatwave hit the ocean in 2021.

Calling WMO's flagship report "a dismal litany of humanity’s failure to tackle climate disruption," U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres launched a five-point plan to "jump-start the renewable energy transition" and demand stronger climate action. "The global energy system is broken and bringing us ever closer to climate catastrophe. Fossil fuels are a dead end — environmentally and economically," said Guterres.

Russia's war in Ukraine and the soaring energy prices it is causing are "yet another wake-up call," he said. "The only sustainable future is a renewable one. We must end fossil fuel pollution and accelerate the renewable energy transition, before we incinerate our only home. Time is running out."

His proposed five-point plan calls on the world to:

_Remove intellectual property constraints on renewable energy technologies like battery storage to free up knowledge sharing and technological transfer.

_Secure, scale up and diversify the supply of critical components and raw materials for renewable energy technologies.

_Build government frameworks and reform bureaucracies to level the playing field for renewables.

_Shift government subsidies away from fossil fuels to protect the poor and most vulnerable people and communities.

_Triple private and public investments in renewable energy to at least US$4 trillion dollars a year.

'The only path'

WMO's report on 2021 climate conditions said the La Niña event at the start and end of the year temporarily cooled the world a bit but did not reverse the overall trend of rising temperatures, putting the average global temperature at about 1.11 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

Under the 2015 Paris Agreement, nations must prevent temperatures from rising more than 2 degrees C. above pre-industrial levels, or 1.5 degrees if possible, and mobilize US$100 billion a year in climate financing for improving developing nations' adaptation and resilience amid rising temperatures.

Guterres said the world has to act this decade to keep the 1.5 degrees goal alive, and the "lifeline is right in front us" — wind, solar and other renewable energy technologies that are, in most cases, cheaper than coal-fired and other fossil fuel burning power plants.

Over the past decade, the cost of wind energy declined by more than half, Guterres noted, while the cost of solar energy and batteries fell by 85%.

"Renewables are the only path to real energy security, stable power prices and sustainable employment opportunities," he said. "Every country, city and citizen, every financial institution, company and civil society organization has a role to play."