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A record 235 million people will need humanitarian assistance and protection next year
by UN News, Office for Humanitarian Affairs
Dec. 2020
A record 235 million people will need humanitarian assistance and protection next year, a near 40 per cent increase on 2020 which is “almost entirely from COVID-19”, the UN’s emergency relief chief said on Tuesday.
In an appeal for sufficient aid funding to meet rising humanitarian needs in the next next year, Mark Lowcock said that the global health crisis had impacted dramatically people already reeling from conflict, record levels of displacement, climate change shocks. He said that “multiple” famines are looming.
The situation is “desperate” for millions and has left the UN and partners “overwhelmed”.
“The picture we are presenting is the bleakest and darkest perspective on humanitarian needs in the period ahead that we have ever set out.
That is a reflection of the fact that the COVID pandemic has wreaked carnage across the whole of the most fragile and vulnerable countries on the planet.”
"It has been clear for some time that it is not the virus itself doing most harm in vulnerable countries. It is the secondary impacts of the subsequent lockdowns and global recession – rising food prices, falling incomes, drops in remittances, interrupted vaccination programmes, school closures. They all hit the poorest people in the poorest countries hardest". 
"Extreme poverty is increasing. Life expectancy will fall. The annual death toll from HIV, tuberculosis and malaria is set to double. We fear a near doubling in the number of people facing starvation. Many girls out of school will never go back".
The rise of hunger shows no signs of abating. By the end of 2020, the number of acutely food insecure people could increase to 270 million due to COVID-19, representing an 82 per cent increase compared to the number of acutely food insecure people pre-COVID-19. Urgent and sustained humanitarian action is needed to avoid further deterioration and to prevent a risk of famine in areas already on the brink of starvation.
"The pandemic has been devastating but for many of the countries whose needs we are responding to in this plan it was yet another layer of hardship on top of protracted conflicts, the effects of climate change, and the worst locust plague for a generation".
"Altogether it’s a toxic mix that has driven humanitarian need to levels unimaginable at the start of the year.  As we look ahead we face the prospect of a return to a world in which famine – something we thought we had consigned to history – is commonplace once more. Where the rights and prospects of women and girls are set back. Where parents cannot confidently expect their babies to reach their fifth birthday".
"All this can be avoided. Working together to find and fund solutions is the only way out. Wealthy nations have the means and motivation to help. Local problems become global problems if you let them. There is a strong moral and self-interest argument to act".
"We still don’t have a response that matches the scale of the crisis. We need the plans summarized in this overview to be fully funded - $35 billion is required to meet the needs of 160 million people. The faster that happens, the better. This is a crucial juncture. We won’t get a second chance to make the right choice".
"I have never been more in awe of the determination of people who live unimaginably hard lives in humanitarian tragedies, and their refusal to give up hope. Human progress is hard won and fragile. History will judge us harshly if we preside over the grand reversal". 
Echoing Mr. Lowcock’s call for global solidarity, UN Secretary-General António Guterres urged the world to “stand with people in their darkest hour of need”, as the global pandemic continues to worsen.
Although the humanitarian system had delivered “food, medicines, shelter, education and other essentials to tens of millions of people throughout the year, “the crisis is far from over”, the UN chief said.
This year’s Global Humanitarian Overview (GHO) sets out plans “to reach 160 million of the most vulnerable people in 56 countries”, Mr. Lowcock said.
He noted that while richer countries had invested some $10 trillion in staving off economic disaster from the COVID-induced slump and could now see “light at the end of the tunnel…the same is not true in the poorest countries”.
The COVID-19 crisis had plunged millions into poverty “and sent humanitarian needs skyrocketing,” Mr. Lowcock explained, adding that aid funding was needed to “stave off famine, fight poverty, and keep children vaccinated and in school”.
Money will also be used from the UN’s Central Emergency Relief Fund (CERF) to tackle rising violence against women and girls linked to the pandemic, Mr. Lowcock said.
He also highlighted how climate change and rising global temperatures had further contributed to the bleak outlook for humanitarian needs in 2021, the impact being “most acute in the countries which have also got the biggest humanitarian problems. Indeed, eight of the 10 countries most vulnerable to the effects of climate change are ones where humanitarian agencies have got a huge amount of work to do already.”
Conflicts new and old had also contributed to increased needs, the UN relief chief said, pointing to “new spikes of conflict in places that were previously more peaceful. We’ve seen that obviously recently in Nagorno-Karabakh, we’ve seen it in northern Mozambique, we’ve seen it in the Western Sahara and at the moment obviously, tragically, we’re seeing in northern Ethiopia.”
Sadly, these flare-ups “haven’t replaced conflicts in other places”, said Mr. Lowcock. “In fact, things are just as bad now in the biggest humanitarian settings driven by conflict as they were a year ago.”
“We’re overwhelmed with problems, as you know, but just the scale of the need and the scale of crisis is such that these efforts to anticipate things make things a little bit better than they would otherwise have been, but they still leave us with a terrible, desperate situation.”
In addition to providing the means to help communities in crisis, Mr. Lowcock underscored the UN appeal’s focus on preventive action.
This included a cash injection for the World Health Organization (WHO) in February at the outset of the coronavirus pandemic, to ensure that poorer countries received protective equipment to tackle COVID-19.
Similarly, tens of thousands of potential flood victims in Bangladesh received “support and cash” help in time so that they could protect their belongings and livelihoods.
“What we ended up with there was a much cheaper, more effective response as well as one that dramatically reduced the human suffering we would have had than if we’d done the traditional thing - waiting until floods arrive,” Mr. Lowcock highlighted.
The UN emergency relief chief underscored that the scale of the challenges facing humanitarian agencies next year are massive – and growing. “If we get through 2021 without major famines that will be a significant achievement,” he said. “The red lights are flashing, and the alarm bells are ringing.”

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2020 ties with 2016 as Earth’s Hottest Year on Record
by WMO, NASA, Inside Climate News, agencies
14 Jan. 2021
The year 2020 was one of the three warmest on record, and rivalled 2016 for the top spot, according to a consolidation of five leading international datasets by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). A naturally occurring cooling climate phenomenon, La Niña, put a brake on the heat only at the very end of the year.
All five datasets surveyed by WMO concur that 2011-2020 was the warmest decade on record, in a persistent long-term climate change trend. The warmest six years have all been since 2015, with 2016, 2019 and 2020 being the top three. The differences in average global temperatures among the three warmest years – 2016, 2019 and 2020 – are indistinguishably small. The average global temperature in 2020 was about 14.9°C, 1.2°C above the pre-industrial (1850-1900) level.
“The confirmation by the World Meteorological Organization that 2020 was one of the warmest years on record is yet another stark reminder of the relentless pace of climate change, which is destroying lives and livelihoods across our planet. Today, we are at 1.2 degrees of warming and already witnessing unprecedented weather extremes in every region and on every continent. We are headed for a catastrophic temperature rise of 3 to 5 degrees Celsius this century. Making peace with nature is the defining task of the 21st century. It must be the top priority for everyone, everywhere," said United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres.
“The exceptional heat of 2020 is despite a La Niña event, which has a temporary cooling effect,” said WMO Secretary-General Prof. Petteri Taalas. “It is remarkable that temperatures in 2020 were virtually on a par with 2016, when we saw one of the strongest El Niño warming events on record. This is a clear indication that the global signal from human-induced climate change is now as powerful as the force of nature,” said Prof. Taalas.
“The temperature ranking of individual years represent only a snapshot of a much longer-term trend. Since the 1980s each decade has been warmer than the previous one. Heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere remain at record levels and the long lifetime of carbon dioxide, the most important gas, commits the planet to future warming,” said Prof. Taalas.
Jan. 2021
European climate scientists have tallied up millions of temperature readings from last year to conclude that 2020 was tied with 2016 as the hottest year on record for the planet.
It’s the first time the global temperature has peaked without El Nino, a cyclical Pacific Ocean warm phase that typically spikes the average annual global temperature to new highs, said Freja Vamborg, a senior scientist with the European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service, who was lead author on its annual report for 2020.
That report shows the Earth’s surface temperature at 2.25 degrees Fahrenheit above the 1850 to 1890 pre-industrial average, and 1.8 degrees warmer than the 1981 to 2010 average that serves as a baseline against which annual temperature variations are measured.
In the past, the climate-warming effect of El Nino phases really stood out in the long-term record, Vamberg said. The 1998 “super” El Nino caused the largest annual increase in global temperatures recorded up to that time, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
“If you look at the 1998 El Nino, it was really a spike, but now, we’re kind of well above that, simply due to the trend,” Vamberg said.
El Nino can warm the planet’s annual average temperature by about 0.15 degrees Celsius, so the global temperature could spike to yet another new record next time the central equatorial Pacific swings to that warm phase, said Jennifer Francis, a scientist with the Woodwell Climate Research Center in Massachusetts.
Part of 2020’s record heat can be attributed to persistent warmth in the Arctic and northern Siberia, where the annual temperature was 10.8 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than average for the year, Vamberg said.
Europe recorded its warmest year on record: 0.72 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than 2019 and 2.9 degrees warmer than the 1981 to 2010 baseline. Autumn was especially hot on the continent, running 4 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than the baseline for the first time ever.
The last six years were the six hottest recorded on the planet, and 2020 closed the warmest decade on record.
In the records of the Japanese Meteorological Agency, which released its annual report last week, 2020 beat out 2016 as the planet’s warmest year, running 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit above the 20th century average. It was the fifth-warmest year on record for the U.S., according to the 2020 U.S. national climate summary released by NOAA on January 8. Its annual global climate report and other major climate studies are due in the next week or so, including those from NASA and the United Kingdom Meteorological Office. Their results are expected to be within a tenth of a degree of each other.
Each of the agencies uses the same general set of temperature readings from thousands of weather stations spread across continents and oceans, but they sometimes reach slightly different results, because they calculate the data in different ways. That’s especially true with data from polar regions, where readings are sparse.
The final numbers rarely differ by more than a few hundredths of a degree, but in a year in which the results are very close to previous readings, that can affect the ranking. Once all the figures are out, the United Nations World Meteorological Organization compiles them and releases an annual report that includes the closest thing to an official global temperature measurement. The WMO should release its report later this month.
The small differences don’t call any of the measurements into question, Vamberg said. When taken together, especially over a period of five or 10 years, they reinforce each other and show the inexorable, long-term warming trend caused by greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, she said.
“I wouldn’t make a call saying one is better or different,” added Carl-Friedrich Schleussner, head of climate science with Climate Analytics and Humboldt University in Berlin. “They just reflect different ways of constructing a temperature record.”
Last year’s record or near-record reading was widely expected and forecast for months, due to a steady string of monthly records.
“What we are seeing is pretty much in line with our expectations,” he said. “If it was an El Niño year, we would expect an additional spike on top of human-made climate change.” In comparing years on a short timescale, he added, natural annual variations can still override the signal of human-caused warming.
“An individual record year is not the core message of climate science,” Schleussner said. “It will continue warming until CO2 emissions meet net zero. Any individual year record is a reminder we are still increasing the level of greenhouse gases, which means Earth will keep getting hotter.”
The dramatic impacts of 2020’s record warmth were also not unexpected. Blistering heat waves on every continent, a hyperactive Atlantic hurricane season and wildfires that raged from Australia to the Arctic have all been attributed to global warming by peer-reviewed research.
The various global annual temperature compilations help clarify the picture of a warming planet, said Kevin Trenberth, a climate scientist with the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder and the University of Auckland, New Zealand.
“The consequences are clear,” Trenberth said. “More heatwaves, including marine heat waves, stronger, bigger, longer lasting hurricanes, heavier rainfalls and snowfalls and stronger droughts and wildfires.”

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