As the Paris climate agreement comes into force, which aims to limit the warming of the planet due to man-made climate change to within 2°C (3.6°F), new data has found what many have suspected. The last five years, from 2011 to 2015, have been the warmest on record, and this has led to an uptick in extreme weather events that have cost hundreds of thousands of lives and billions of dollars in economic damage. And 2016 is set to be hotter still.
The latest report compiled by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) has been released as global climate talks currently take place in Morocco. They have confirmed the long-term warming trend, which has seen the last five years warm on average by 0.57°C (1.03°F) above the 1961 to 1990 average. This warming has not, however, been consistently felt as while temperatures over Europe were on average over 1°C (1.8°F) warmer, Africa bucked the trend as the only continent for which the five-year period was not hottest.
While the gain may not sound like a lot, the effects are certainly being felt. The rise in atmospheric CO2, which is now unlikely to drop below 400 parts per million, has been driven undoubtedly by humans, and this has now been linked to increases in extreme weather events that have struck globally. These include the East African drought of 2010 to 2012 that caused an estimated 258,000 deaths, the Southeast Asian floods of 2011 that killed 800 people and caused $40 billion of economic damages, as well as Hurricane Sandy in 2012 that resulted in $67 billion of economic losses, to name but a few.
Add to this the increasing rate at which sea ice and glaciers have continued to melt, with the mean extent of Arctic sea ice during 2011 to 2015 being 28 percent less than the average extent measured between 1980 and 2010. This extra melt water, coupled with the rising ocean temperatures, which causes the water to expand, has led directly to a rise in sea level, which between 1993 and the present have increased by an average of 3 millimeters per year, compared with an average of 1.7 millimeters between 1900 and 2010.
“The effects of climate change have been consistently visible on the global scale since the 1980s,” explained WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas. “Rising global temperature, both over land and in the ocean; sea-level rise; and the widespread melting of ice. It has increased the risks of extreme events such as heatwaves, drought, record rainfall and damaging floods.”
But it doesn’t stop there. By all accounts, 2016 is predicted to top even last year as the hottest on record, and has already pushed through 1°C (1.8°F) of warming, giving a worryingly small amount of space for maneuver if we are to keep within the temperatures stated in the Paris climate agreement. Urgent action needs to happen, and it needs to happen now.