The UNFCCC celebrated its 30th anniversary this May as it continues to fulfill its mandate to address "dangerous human interference with the climate system." Logo courtesy of UNFCCC

30 facts and figures for 30 years of UNFCCC

How has the planet changed since the UNFCCC’s inception?

May 2022 marked the 30th anniversary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which established an international treaty to combat human-caused climate change.  

In light of its upcoming Conference of the Parties, an annual meeting of the agency’s Member States to assess progress and agree on new global regulations, which is this year in its 27th edition (COP27), we’re taking a look at how the planet has changed in the time since the UNFCCC’s inception. With that, here are 30 facts and figures about climate change over the past 30 years and the next 30 years to come to give a snapshot of how things are going and what we can expect in the future – showing the many things COP27 will attempt to help solve.

1. Humans have emitted as much carbon dioxide since 1990 as in all of history before that time.

2. There was a relative increase of almost 53 percent in global greenhouse gas emissions between 1990 and 2019.

3. The global monthly mean carbon dioxide increased from 355.39ppm in 1991 to 414.71ppm in 2021, representing an increase of almost 17 percent in 30 years. Parts per million (ppm) is the unit commonly used to measure the concentrations of pollutants in our air and water – so for every million gas molecules, 414.71 are carbon dioxide.

4. The number of deaths per year with outdoor air pollution as a risk factor almost doubled between 1990 to 2019.

5. Since 1992, the global average sea level has risen 10.1cm.

6. The rise in sea level over the past 30 years is about 10 times more than it would be if only the natural flow of water between land and ocean was measured.

7. The speed of sea level rise is increasing, from 2.5 millimeters per year in the early 1990s to 3.9 in the most recent decade.

8. The average global PH level of the ocean has dropped from 8.11 in 1990 to 8.05 in 2020, which represents a 12.9 percent increase in ocean acidity, which can affect marine calcifying organisms’ ability to form shells and skeletons, with further knock-on effects.

9. Between 1992 and 2020, the Greenland Ice Sheet lost 4,890 gigatonnes of ice, which contributed an estimated 13.6 millimeters to global sea level rise.

10. Between 1992 and 2020, the Antarctic Ice Sheet lost 2,670 gigatonnes of ice, contributing an estimated 7.4 millimeters to global sea level rise.

11. The rate of ice loss from the Greenland and Antarctic Ice Sheets has increased more than 250 percent in three decades, from 105 gigatonnes per year between 1992 and 1996 to 372 gigatonnes between 2016 and 2020.

12. In the past 25 years, the monitored glaciers in Europe have lost between 9 meters (in Scandinavia) and 30 meters (in the Alps) of ice.

13. The thickness of the sea ice in the Arctic Ocean has decreased by more than 30 percent over the last 30 years.

14. “Once-a-decade” heavy-precipitation events – single-day events that occurred once in 10 years on average in a climate free of human influence – are expected to be 1.7 times more frequent in 30 years if emissions remain at their current high level, meaning they will occur on average every 5.8 years.

15. More than 5 billion people are predicted to have inadequate water supply by 2050.

16. “Once-a-decade” drought events – that occurred once in 10 years on average across drying regions in a climate without human influence – are projected to be 2.4 times more frequent in 30 years if emissions remain at their current high level, meaning drought events happening every 4.2 years.  

17. “Once-a-decade” heatwaves – that occurred once in 10 years on average in a climate without human influence– are projected to be 5.6 times more frequent in 30 years if emissions remain at their current high level, meaning they would then come approximately ever 1.8 years.

18. Since 1990, an estimated 420 million hectares of forest have been lost through conversion to other land uses.

19. The rate of deforestation has decreased over the past 30 years.

20. The area of naturally regenerating forest dropped by 301 million hectares between 1990 and 2020.

21. The amount of forest in protected areas increased by 191 million hectares between 1990 and 2020.

22. In 1991, an estimated 15 percent of total land area was either already degraded or being degraded; in 2022, the UN classified up to 40 percent as degraded.

23. More than 90 percent of the world’s land area could become degraded by 2050.

24. Global land and ocean temperature anomalies have continued to climb over the past 30 years, as compared with the 20th-century average.

25. Emissions related exclusively to solid waste –primarily from waste in open dumps and landfills without gas collection systems – are anticipated to increase to 2.38 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide–equivalent per year by 2050 if no improvements are made.

26. Global waste is expected to grow to 3.40 billion tonnes in the next three decades, up from 2.01 billion tonnes of solid waste per year now.

27. Daily per capita waste generation in high-income countries is expected to grow by 19 percent by 2030.

28. Daily per capita waste generation in low- and middle-income countries is projected to grow by 40 percent or more by 2050.

29. The total quantity of waste generated in low-income countries is predicted to grow by more than three times by 2050.

30. An estimated 1.2 billion people could be displaced by 2050 due to climate change and natural disasters.



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