The World Meteorological Organization, marking today's celebration of World Meteorological Day, said there is a need for more focus on the climate issue by young people. The focus comes at a time when most children and young adults in Europe are participating in activities of various organizations, but only a small percentage actively engage in climate issues.
"There is no standstill in global warming," said WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud. "The warming of our oceans has accelerated and at lower depths. More than 90 percent of the excess energy trapped by greenhouse gases is stored in the oceans. Levels of these greenhouse gases are at record levels, meaning that our atmosphere and oceans will continue to warm for centuries to come.
"While the challenges facing the next generations are enormous, the opportunities for addressing them have never been greater," Jarraud said.
The Geneva-based WMO is a U.N. affiliate that focuses on weather, climate and water issues.
This afternoon in Geneva, organizers will hold a live video discussion with young researchers working at the Neumayer-Station III in Antarctica, a polar and marine research station. They are part of a small team staying at the German research base for up to 15 months. As the Antarctic winter approaches, they will be isolated for nine months.
"Overwintering and being in charge of a scientific observatory in Antarctica is a challenge," wrote Neumayer meteorologist Elena Stautzebach, by email. "Because of its isolated location, our closest neighbors are 450 kilometers away, Neumayer is a very unique place to collect scientific data which gives us the opportunity to detect long-term changes in climate and radiation budget as well as variations of concentrations of trace gases under conditions of extreme air purity. Additionally we investigate the development of the Antarctic ozone hole discovered in the 1970s."
The international team of young investigators working at the German base in Antarctica is helping to conduct daily observations on radiation and climate. This information feeds into a telecommunication network serving global weather forecasts.
"The weather is pretty changing at the moment. There are a lot of low pressure systems coming from the Weddell Sea leading to high wind speed up to 55 knots and a lot of snow drift. In between we have periods of sunny weather and temperatures around minus 10 degrees Celsius, like today for example," said Stautzebach.
Coinciding with today's events, the WMO also published its "Annual Statement on the Status of the Global Climate." The report confirms that 2013 tied with 2007 as the sixth-warmest year on record and comes just a day ahead of Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) talks scheduled for this week in Yokohama, Japan.
"Many of the extreme events of 2013 were consistent with what we would expect as a result of human-induced climate change. We saw heavier precipitation, more intense heat, and more damage from storm surges and coastal flooding as a result of sea-level rise -- as Typhoon Haiyan so tragically demonstrated in the Philippines," Jarraud said.
Widespread weather extremes
Key climate events of 2013 included heavy rains and severe floods in Sudan, Somalia, northeast China, the India-Nepal border, the eastern Russian Federation, Austria, the Czech Republic, Germany, Poland, Switzerland and Europe's Alpine region. Frigid polar air plummeted into parts of Europe and the southeastern United States, while the Middle East saw unprecedented snowfall in Israel, Jordan and Syria.
Antarctica experienced its second-largest minimum sea-ice extent during the melt season in 2013 and, during the growth season, the largest sea-ice extent since records began in 1979.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, widespread heat waves scorched Australia with record warmth and gave Argentina its second-warmest year on record and New Zealand its third-warmest.
Severe drought gripped many countries around the world -- including southern China and northeastern Brazil, which experienced its worst in 50 years. Even La Réunion, a small French island in the southeast Indian Ocean, experienced historic droughts from May to September.
In Africa, droughts in Botswana and surrounding countries gave rise to a food security crisis. "Following nearly three decades of low seasonal rainfall and a second consecutive year of failed rains, Angola and Namibia suffered one of the worst droughts of the past 30 years," the study reported. "An estimated 1.5 million people in southern Angola faced food insecurity, as did nearly 800,000 in Namibia."
For those in many Western societies, recent reports list three key influences on positive climate change-related behaviors -- such as food choices, efficient energy use, and low-carbon emission transportation. They are: awareness, moral responsibility, and threat perception. For example, a study of university students in Finland found, "habit and disbelief in the effects of food consumption on the climate were found to be the barriers.
Taking these key influences into consideration, a study published this year in the journal Human and Ecological Risk Assessment questioned Nigerian city-dwellers and found a wide variance in their perceptions of the climate threat. While they showed feelings of moral responsibility, most tended to act only when they saw a clear link to a weather event, such as a drought.
A need for young environmental champions
The implication for climate change advocacy efforts is a need to better establish the relationships between extreme weather and climate.
The WMO study did exactly this type of attribution with last year's record heat in Australia.
It found that the Australian summer of 2012-13 was about five times as likely as a result of human-induced influence on climate and that the record hot calendar year of 2013 would have been almost impossible without human contributions of heat-trapping gases.
"Maintaining our current dependence on fossil fuels will lead us to a significantly warmer planet: By the end of the century, the temperature could be up to 4 degrees Celsius higher than in preindustrial times. Limiting the warming to less than 2 degrees Celsius can still be achieved, but it will require a rapid significant reduction in greenhouse gas emissions," Jarraud said.
"Achieving this objective demands urgent, decisive and courageous action," he said. "The world's youth can be a powerful actor of change in this regard."
Last year, during a study on youth in Europe, the European Commission interviewed 12,927 people between the ages of 15 and 30 and found 7 percent were part of an organization involved in climate change or environmental issues. That represents an increase of 4 percent since 2011.
"We need to strengthen formal and informal education about climate change, promote sustainability and support youth to become environmental champions in their own communities. We must ensure that youth are ready to join the emerging green economies around the world," Jarraud said. "Let's remember there is always a Plan B, but there is no Planet B."