UN report: Greenhouse gasses at highest level in 5 million years

Alarming study comes as 'desperate' low-lying Vanuatu plans to sue climate change culprits in energy industry.

    Village chief Philip Kasamu poses on a smashed hut destroyed by Cyclone Pam on the island of Tanna, Vanuatu in 2015 [File: Nick Perry/AP]
    Village chief Philip Kasamu poses on a smashed hut destroyed by Cyclone Pam on the island of Tanna, Vanuatu in 2015 [File: Nick Perry/AP]

    Greenhouse gasses are at levels not seen in the past five million years and time is running out to save Earth from the worst effects of climate change, a United Nations report has said.

    Since 1990, there has been a 41 percent increase in the warming effect by various greenhouse gases on the climate, said the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) on Thursday. 

    "The science is clear. Without rapid cuts in CO2 and other greenhouse gasses, climate change will have increasingly destructive and irreversible impacts on life on Earth. The window of opportunity for action is almost closed," said WMO's Secretary-General Petteri Taalas in a statement.

    The WMO's findings follow evidence presented in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) special report on global warming issued in October, which sounded the alarm on the need to reach zero net emissions of carbon dioxide by mid-century, in order to keep temperature increases to below 1.5 degrees Celsius. 

    The study showed how keeping temperature increases below 2C could reduce the risks for the well-being of the planet and its species.

    {articleGUID}

    The two reports are likely to drive discussion at the upcoming UN climate change conference - the COP 24 - from December 2 to 14 in Poland.

    Oksana Tarasova, an official from the WMO, told Al Jazeera the latest report is extremely alarming.

    "Unfortunately, we do not see any signs in the decline of the greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere. If we continue at the rate we are now, we may reach a very high temperature increase," she said.

    Vanuatu threatens lawsuit

    One country increasingly affected by rising seas, Vanuatu in the Pacific, said it is considering suing fossil fuel companies and industrialised countries that use them for their role in creating catastrophic climate change, the foreign minister said on Thursday.

    Vanuatu, with an estimated population of 280,000 people spread across roughly 80 islands, is among more than a dozen Pacific island nations that already face rising sea levels and more regular storms that can kill and wipe out much of their economies.

    Foreign Minister Ralph Regenvanu said it was time some of the billions of dollars of profits fossil fuel companies generate every year goes towards the damage they cause in countries such as "desperate" Vanuatu.

    "This is really about claiming for the damages," he told Reuters news agency.

    Speaking at the Climate Vulnerable Forum's Virtual Summit, Regenvanu announced legal options Vanuatu was considering.

    {articleGUID}

    "My government is now exploring all avenues to utilise the judicial system in various jurisdictions - including under international law - to shift the costs of climate protection back on to fossil fuel companies, the financial institutions, and the governments that actively and knowingly created this existential threat to my country," he said.

    About 64 percent of Vanuatu's gross domestic product (GDP) was wiped out in a single cyclone in 2015, causing economic losses of $449.4m, he said.

    "Human rights are under threat from a force which challenges the foundations of all life as we know it on this planet we share," said WMO Deputy Secretary-General Elena Manaenkova.

    "The rights of the millions of people are threatened by climate change."

    Big oil and climate change

    Counting the Cost

    Big oil and climate change

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies