The world is likely to cross 1.2° C of global warming above pre-industrial levels in 2016, coming dangerously close to breaching the 1.5° C warming levels advised as an ambitious target to stay safe from the worst impacts of climate change. In a preliminary assessment provided by the World Meteorological Organisation in its Status of the Global Climate in 2016 report, the global UN weather agency warned here on Monday that 2016 will be the hottest year on record, with global temperatures even higher than what 2015 experienced.
The Paris Agreement last year had adopted 2°C as the absolute threshold for staying within safe global warming levels. However, 1.5°C was advised as an ambitious target, especially bearing in mind the fate of small island countries such as Haiti or Maldives that are threatened with submergence due to sea-level rise and extreme weather events.
Global temperatures for January to September 2016 have been about 0.88°C (1.58°F) above the average (14°C) for the 1961-1990 reference period, which WMO uses as a baseline.
Speaking at the COP22 summit at the report’s launch WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas said that while the extra heat from the powerful El Niño event has disappeared, the heat from global warming will continue.
“In parts of Arctic Russia, temperatures were 6°C to 7°C above the long-term average. Many other Arctic and sub-Arctic regions in Russia, Alaska and northwest Canada were at least 3°C above average. We are used to measuring temperature records in fractions of a degree, and so this is different,” he said. “Because of climate change, the occurrence and impact of extreme events has risen. ‘Once in a generation’ heatwaves and flooding are becoming more regular. Sea level rise has increased exposure to storm surges associated with tropical cyclones,” he noted.
Stock-taking global impact
The WMO report outlined the major weather events associated with increasing global warming levels in 2016. The most significant, in terms of casualties, was Hurricane Matthew affecting Haiti and parts of the U.S. Typhoon Lionrock caused destructive flooding and heavy casualties in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, and Cyclone Winston was the most severe tropical storm on record to affect Fiji. In total, there have been 78 tropical cyclones globally in 2016 as of October 31, close to the long-term average, the report said. The Yangtze basin in China had its most significant summer floods since 1999. Sri Lanka experienced flooding and landslides in Sri Lanka in mid-May leaving many dead or displaced. Above-normal seasonal rainfall in the Sahel led to significant flooding in the Niger River basin, with the river reaching its highest levels in about 50 years in Mali.
There were a number of major heat waves and droughts experienced during 2015-2016. The year started with an extreme heat wave in southern Africa, exacerbated by the ongoing drought. The report also mentions Phalodi in Rajasthan, India which set a new record for heat in India recording 51.0°C on May 19.
Responding to WMO’s alarming findings, ActionAid climate change policy expert Teresa Anderson said that this year over 400 million people were affected by the strongest ever “El Niño” weather event, causing droughts around the world.
“Today’s news and the impact of the El Nino confirm the need for the world to take urgent action on climate change.”