Europe 1 with AFP / Photo credits: ROBERT MEERDING / ANP MAG / ANP via AFP 16:00 p.m., April 21, 2023

The United Nations warns this Friday about the situation of glaciers: their melting is taking place at such a spectacular speed that it can not be prevented. "The game is already lost for the glaciers because the concentration of CO2 is already very high," said the UN secretary-general.

Glaciers are melting at a spectacular rate without being able to stop them, the UN warned Friday, as climate change indicators break records, a trend that is expected to continue into the 2060s. In its annual report on the state of the global climate, the United Nations' World Meteorological Organization (WMO) highlights global changes on land, oceans and atmosphere, caused by record levels of heat-trapping greenhouse gases.

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The last eight years have been the warmest

The report confirms that the average global temperature in 2022 was 1.15 degrees higher than in pre-industrial times (1850-1900) and that the last eight years have been the warmest on record, despite cooling caused by the La Niña climate phenomenon three years in a row. According to the WMO, "Antarctic sea ice has reached its lowest level ever recorded and the melting of some European glaciers has literally exceeded records."

And "the game is already lost for glaciers because the concentration of CO2 is already very high and sea level rise is likely to continue for thousands of years to come," WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas told AFP. The melting cannot be stopped "unless we create a way to remove CO2 from the atmosphere," he said.

No snow survived the summer melt season

Reference glaciers have experienced a much greater loss than the average of the last ten years. The cumulative loss of glacier thickness since 1970 amounts to nearly 30 m. The European Alps have broken records for glacier melt due to a combination of low winter snowfall, the arrival of Saharan dust in March 2022 and heat waves between May and early September.

The situation of the Swiss glaciers is particularly dramatic. They lost 6% of their ice volume between 2021 and 2022, compared to a third between 2001 and 2022. For the first time, no snow survived the summer melt season, even at the highest measurement sites, and therefore there was no accumulation of fresh ice.

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Sea levels and ocean warmth have also reached record levels. Droughts, floods and heat waves affect large parts of the world and the costs associated with them continue to rise. "Greenhouse gas emissions continue to grow, the climate continues to change, and people around the world are still being hit hard by extreme weather and climate events," Taalas said.

Towards a warming of 2.5 to 3 degrees

At a press conference, he stressed that "this negative trend in weather and all these parameters is likely to continue into the 2060s, regardless of our success in mitigating climate change". "We have already emitted so much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere that it will take several decades to stop this negative trend. The game is already lost for melting glaciers and rising sea levels, so that's bad news," he said.

But there are still glimmers of hope. Especially because green energy is becoming cheaper than fossil fuels, according to Petteri Taalas, who points out that the planet is no longer heading for a warming of 3 to 5 degrees as predicted in 2014, but rather towards a warming of 2.5 to 3 degrees.

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"In the best-case scenario, we could still achieve a warming of 1.5 degrees, which would be the best for the well-being of humanity, the biosphere and the global economy," he told AFP, noting that 32 countries had reduced their greenhouse gas emissions without preventing them from growing economically. "Countries have started to act," as well as the private sector," he said. However, he lamented that only half of the 193 UN member states have early warning services.