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.”
Perkins-Kirkpatrick said the statistics revealed an emergency. “We haven’t experienced a month that has been below average for over 30 years … I think people forget climate change started happening a long time ago, before a lot of us were even born. Honestly, it’s frightening.”
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”.
Read also: Climate chief expects 80-100 signatures on landmark treaty
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.
Source: The Guardian