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A Greenland glacier breaks up into pieces into Ilulissat Icefjord. With rising sea levels and warming temperatures, such events are becoming ever more frequent. Photo: Tim Norris via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND).
A Greenland glacier breaks up into pieces into Ilulissat Icefjord. With rising sea levels and warming temperatures, such events are becoming ever more frequent. Photo: Tim Norris via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND).
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WMO: record warming rises into danger zone

Alex Kirby

28th November 2015

A climate negotiators gather in Paris for COP21, the WMO say that a combination of human and natural causes will make 2015 temperatures the hottest ever - half way to the 2C 'safety threshold'. But despite the ever falling price of solar and wind, many newly industrialising countries are insisting on coal-fired development.

2015 is likely to be the hottest year on record, with ocean surface temperatures at the highest level since measurements began. It is probable that the 1°C threshold will be crossed. This is all bad news for the planet.

The World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) has warned that the gathering pace of climate change means that 2015 is likely to prove the warmest year on record.

Global average surface temperature, it says, is likely to be the warmest yet, and to reach "the symbolic and significant milestone of 1C above the pre-industrial era".

That's half way to the 2C threshold that governments have agreed as the maximum warming tolerable if the Earth is to avert dangerously unpredictable climate change.

The WMO issued its provisional statement on the status of the climate in 2015, and the additional five-year analysis for 2011-2015, to inform negotiations at theCOP21 UN climate change conference due to start in Paris on 30th November.

"Greenhouse gas emissions, which are causing climate change, can be controlled", said Michel Jarraud, secretary-general. "We have the knowledge and the tools to act. We have a choice. Future generations will not.

"Added to that, we are witnessing a powerful El Niño event, which is still gaining in strength. This is influencing weather patterns in many parts of the world, and fuelled an exceptionally warm October. The overall warming impact of this El Niño is expected to continue into 2016."

The negotiators' main task at COP21 in will be to reach an agreement that will take the world closer to reaching the 2C target. There is no prospect that they will reach the target itself, but they may make significant progress towards it.

Many experts argue that 2C is a 'political' threshold, with little scientific justification, and some influential voices say the target should be as low as 1.5C. These include some of the states most threatened by climate change.

2015 is breaking climate records - and not in a good way

The WMO says the combined causes of this historically unprecedented heat are both natural and human-induced: a strong El Niño - the periodic climate phenomenon in the Pacific - and anthropogenic warming resulting from the rising emissions of greenhouse gases, largely through the burning of fossil fuels, agriculture and deforestation.

Not only does this year look likely to be a record-breaker, but a five-year analysis by the WMO shows the years 2011-2015 to have been the warmest five-year period on record, with many extreme weather events - especially heatwaves - influenced by climate change.

"The state of the global climate in 2015 will make history for a number of reasons", said Jarraud. "Levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere reached new highs, and in the northern hemisphere spring 2015 the three-month global average concentration of CO2 crossed the 400 parts per million barrier for the first time.

"2015 is likely to be the hottest year on record, with ocean surface temperatures at the highest level since measurements began. It is probable that the 1C threshold will be crossed. This is all bad news for the planet.

The WMO's preliminary estimate, based on data from January to October, shows that the global average surface temperature for 2015 so far is around 0.73C above the 1961-1990 average of 14C, and approximately 1C above the pre-industrial 1880-1899 period. The global average sea-surface temperature, which set a record last year, is likely to equal or surpass that record in 2015.

By the end of September this year, 2011-15 was the world's warmest five-year period on record, at about 0.57C above the 1961-90 average. It was the warmest five years recorded for Asia, Europe, South America and Oceania, and for North America.

And worryingly, most of the heat trapped by greenhouse gases is going into the oceans, not the atmosphere: "The oceans have been absorbing more than 90% of the energy that has accumulated in the climate system from human emissions of greenhouse gases, resulting in higher temperatures and sea levels.

"In the first nine months of 2015, global ocean heat content through both the upper 700 meters and 2000 meters of the oceans reached record high levels. The latest estimates of global sea level indicate that the global average sea level in the first half of 2015 was the highest since satellite observations became available in 1993."

But for many countries, it's fossil-fuelled 'development' first

Although the WMO's announcement will remind delegates of the urgency of reaching an agreement, there are many countries that insist that 'development' must take priority over a low-carbon economy.

Among countries that are committing to new large scale coal power generation are Turkey, the Phillippines, Burma and India - the world's third largest emitter of greenhouse gases, which plans to open one large new coal mine a month until 2020, and expects to triple its emissions by 2030.

In fact, renewables like wind and solar are becoming ever cheaper, and in good locations cost less than new coal fired power. They are also best placed to bring electricity to rural communities that are distant from power grids, with technologies like wind, solar, biogas and small hydro creating village-scale microgrids

India's former environment minister, Jairam Ramesh, recently explained his country's position to the BBC: "The people who have put carbon dioxide in the atmosphere over the last hundred years must take the greater responsibility for cutting the emissions. We are making a huge investment in renewables ... but even with the most aggressive solar, aggressive nuclear, aggressive hydro, we'll still need to double our coal consumption over the next 15 years."

But in fact, with solar fast gaining ground in India for economic reasons alone, there is little reason to believe that the 'aggressive' solar programme trumpeted by Ramesh would deliver any more than business as usual.

Meanwhile coal is imposing enormous health and environmental costs on communities impacted by coal mines and power stations - and that's before counting the costs of climate change: India's May 2015 heat wave killed thousands of people.

 


 

Alex Kirby writes for Climate News Network. Some additional reporting by The Ecologist.

 

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