“The statistics reveal an emergency”: Usually conservative World Meteorological Organization says global warming taking place at an ‘alarming rate’

March 21, 2016

The World Meteorological Organisation says unprecedented rate of change sends a powerful message to world leaders to implement the Paris deal to cut emissions

 The “alarming” and “unprecedented” rate of climate change is “sending a powerful message to world leaders”, the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) has warned.  Releasing its Status of the Global Climate report, the WMO – a United Nations body – detailed the string of climate and weather records that were broken in 2015, including global temperature records, exceptional rainfall, devastating droughts, unusual cyclone activity and intense heatwaves.“The year 2015 will stand out in the historical record of the global climate in many ways,” said WMO secretary-general Petteri Taalas in the report.

“The future is happening now,” he said in a statement released alongside the report. “The alarming rate of change we are now witnessing in our climate as a result of greenhouse gas emission is unprecedented in modern records.”Global surface temperatures in 2015 shattered all previous records by a wide margin, the report shows, sitting 0.76C above the 1961-90 average. Temperatures over land, over the ocean and in the top 700 and 2,000 metres of the ocean all set new records.

“Our planet is sending a powerful message to world leaders to sign and implement the Paris agreement on climate change and cut greenhouse gases now before we pass the point of no return,” Taalas said.

Dr Sarah Perkins-Kirkpatrick from the University of New South Wales in Australia said the language was very strong for the WMO. “They are usually very conservative,” she said.

“We have to put this report in context. 2014 was the hottest year on record to date too. We’ve had something like 15 out of the 16 hottest years on record since the turn of the millennium,” she said. “Things aren’t getting better, they’re getting much much worse, and the tone of the report reflects this.”

The report follows Nasa figures showing that February 2016 was the most unseasonably hot month on record by a massive margin, which climate scientists described as “shocking”.

Although a strong El Niño was pushing temperatures up, it was only part of the story, since the temperatures were much higher than in 1998, when the world went through a comparable or even stronger El Niño.

Dr Wenju Cai, from the CSIRO in Melbourne, said the El Niño was probably releasing some of the temperature that had been stored in the ocean during the so-called hiatus. “If you have a hiatus in previous years, more heat is stored in the ocean and that could make it a bigger release.”

The world was playing catch-up for the warming that had been less visible since about 1998, he said.

“The startlingly high temperatures so far in 2016 have sent shockwaves around the climate science community,” said David Carlson, director of the World Climate Research Programme.

Taalas said “urgent and far-reaching measures to cut carbon dioxide emissions” were needed to avoid temperature rises of 3C. He said investment in disaster early warning systems was essential to help communities adapt to climate change.

2015: A year for the history books

  • 2015 was the hottest year on record, with global average surface temperatures sitting 0.76C above the 1961-90 average. That was driven by long-term climate change and a strong El Niño.
  • Ocean heat down to both 700 m and 2,000 m broke all previous records.
  • When the Arctic sea ice was at its maximum, it was the smallest it has been since consistent records began in the 1970s. The sea ice minimum was the fourth-smallest it has been over that time.
  • The latest WMO figures on CO2 levels (from 2014) reached a record level, teetering on the edge of the symbolic 400ppm, at 397.7 – 43% more than pre-industrial levels.
  • Sea level, measured by both traditional tide gauges and satellites, was the highest on record.
  • Devastating heatwaves occurred in many places, killing 2,000 people in the southern Indian states of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh alone.
  • Extreme rainfall records fell in many locations. More than 11 months’ worth of rain fell in one day on the west coast of Libya. Marrakech in Morocco received 13 months’ worth in one hour in August.
  • Southern Africa had its driest season since 1932-33 and drought exacerbated forest fires in Indonesia.
  • Tropical cyclone Patricia hit Mexico on 20 October as the strongest hurricane on record in either the Atlantic or eastern north Pacific, with sustained wind speeds of 346km/h.