iceberg climate change

2016 was hottest year on record, just like preceding two years

2016 proved to be the hottest year on record globally, even beating some of 2015’s exceptionally high temperatures, according to the World Meteorological Organisation.

The global average temperature in 2016 was 1.1°C higher than pre-industrial levels and about 0.07°C higher than the previous record set in 2015, the organisation said.

Along with record temperatures, other long-term indicators that humans are changing the climate reached new heights in 2016, including levels of greenhouse gases and melting ice, the WMO said.

The analysis is based on data from the UK’s Met Office Hadley Centre, the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit, the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and Nasa’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies.

WMO secretary general Petteri Taalas said: “2016 was an extreme year for the global climate and stands out as the hottest year on record. But temperatures only tell part of the story.

“Long-term indicators of human-caused climate change reached new heights in 2016. Carbon dioxide and methane concentrations surged to new records. Both contribute to climate change.

“We have also broken sea ice minimum records in the Arctic and Antarctic. Greenland glacier melt - one of the contributors to sea level rise - started early and fast.

“Arctic sea ice was the lowest on record both at the start of the melt season in March and at the height of the normal refreezing period in October and November.”

The warnings follow sentiments expressed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in August last year, when it noted that many climate records were broken in 2015 including the title of hottest year on record. 

A powerful ‘El Nino’, a weather phenomenon in the Pacific Ocean that pushes up global temperatures, fuelled high temperatures in the early months of 2016.

The Met Office Hadley Centre’s acting director Peter Stott said: “A particularly strong El Nino event contributed about 0.2°C to the annual average for 2016, which was about 1.1°C above the long-term average from 1850 to 1900.

“However, the main contributor to warming over the last 150 years is human influence on climate from increasing greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.”

The record prompted renewed calls for a rapid shift away from fossil fuels to curb greenhouse gas emissions and rising temperatures.

A recent study from Duke University claimed that green technologies would need to be installed at a rate 10 times faster than at present if global temperature increases are to be limited to 2°C above pre-industrial levels, as called for in the recent Paris Agreement. 

WWF-UK chief executive Tanya Steele said: “This is yet again a warning sign for governments, businesses and citizens to speed up the shift to a low-carbon economy.

“From our coral reefs being bleached at an alarming rate, to glaciers melting, and the world facing the first mass extinction of wildlife since the dinosaurs, there are more and more danger signs that we are breaching the environmental limits of our planet.”

She said the UK was making progress, but there was a need to drastically improve energy efficiency, switch to renewables and change consumption patterns.

The two US datasets and the one from the UK vary slightly, mostly because of different ways that the Polar Regions, with little data, are assessed.

The Met Office and UEA figures found that 2016 only exceeded 2015 by a small margin, making the past two years the warmest in records dating back to 1850.

All three sets of data reveal that the planet’s average surface temperature has risen by 1.1°C (2°F) since the late 19th century.

Nasa and Noaa’s data both show that 2016 marked three years in a row of record warmth for the globe.

Nasa Goddard Institute for Space Studies director Gavin Schmidt said: “2016 is remarkably the third record year in a row in this series.

“We don’t expect record years every year, but the ongoing long-term warming trend is clear.”

The news comes two days before climate-change sceptic Donald Trump becomes US president.

Concerns are rife among climate scientists that his administration could end access to Nasa data for climate research “with frightening speed”. 

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