High-impact weather and climate events caused major issues for food security in 2021, according to a new report published today (Wednesday, May 18).

The United Nations’ World Meterorological Organisation (WMO) study said that extreme weather events, conflict and economic shocks, along with the Covid-19 pandemic, undermined decades of progress towards improving food security globally.

The State of the Global Climate in 2021 report pointed to socio-economic data showing the vulnerability of populations to current weather and climate events.

“Loss and damages of more than US$ 100 billion (€95 billion) as well as severe impacts on food security and humanitarian aspects due to high-impact weather and climate events have been reported,” it outlined.

Worsening humanitarian crises in 2021 also caused the number of countries at risk of famine to grow.

Almost 600,000 people, mostly in Ethiopia, South Sudan, Yemen and Madagascar, were facing starvation.

The report said that the La Nina weather pattern altered rainfall seasons, disrupting livelihoods and agriculture across the world.

WMO report

The WMO said that four key climate change indicators – greenhouse gas (GHG) concentrations, sea-level rise, ocean heat and ocean acidification – reached record highs in 2021.

The report stated that the global annual mean temperature in 2021 was around 1.11 ° above the 1850-1900 pre-industrial average.

It was less warm than some recent years owing to the cooling from La Nina conditions at the start and end of the year. However, 2015 to 2021 were the seven warmest years on record, the report noted.

Exceptional heatwaves last year broke records across western North America and the Mediterranean; Death Valley in California reached 54.4° on July 9.

A record temperature of 31.3° for Northern Ireland occurred at Castlederg on July 21, while two tropical nights were observed in Co. Kerry when the daily minimum temperature exceeded 20°.

Global mean sea level reached a new record high in 2021, rising an average of 4.5mm/year over the period 2013–2021.

It was also a record-breaking year for greenhouse gas (GHG) concentrations reaching 413.2 parts per million (ppm) globally, or 149% of the pre-industrial level.

The WHO said that stabilising global mean temperature at 1.5° to 2° above pre-industrial (1850–1900) levels by the end of this century will require an ambitious reduction of GHG emissions, which must accelerate during this decade.

Critical actions

UN secretary general, Antonio Guterres, criticised “the dismal litany of humanity’s failure to tackle climate disruption”.

Guterres proposed five critical actions to jump-start the renewable energy transition.

They include greater access to renewable energy technology and supplies, a tripling of private and public investments in renewables and an end to subsidies on fossil fuels, which amount to roughly $11 million/minute.

“Renewables are the only path to real energy security, stable power prices and sustainable employment opportunities. If we act together, the renewable energy transformation can be the peace project of the 21st century,” he said.

“It is just a matter of time before we see another warmest year on record,” WMO secretary general, Petteri Taalas said.

“Our climate is changing before our eyes. The heat trapped by human-induced greenhouse gases will warm the planet for many generations to come.

“Sea level rise, ocean heat and acidification will continue for hundreds of years unless means to remove carbon from the atmosphere are invented,” he warned.