World 1.2 degrees hotter than pre-industrial times

The 1.5C aspirational goal of the Paris Agreement will be hard to meet given the significant warming that has already taken place

Between January and September 2016, the world’s average temperature was 1.2C above the pre-industrial age. This is very close to the aspirational goal in the Paris Agreement to keep the rise within 1.5 degrees.

The UN Environment Programme said recently that global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions must peak by 2020 to keep the temperature rise within 1.5C. Petteri Taalas, head of the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO), has now said that may not be enough, and removing carbon dioxide – the main GHG – from the atmosphere may be necessary.

Taalas was speaking at the launch of the latest WMO report on the state of the atmosphere at the UN climate summit in Marrakech. Going by the first nine months of 2016, this year is over 90% certain to be the hottest on record, he said. The average temperature during these nine months was 0.88C above the long-term average (1961-90).

The result has been a significant surge in the number and intensity of droughts, floods and storms. Omar Baddour, senior WMO scientist, pointed out that India and Russia have had record heat waves this year. Some areas in Arctic Russia showed temperatures six degrees above the long-term average. The Yangtze basin in China had its worst summer floods since 1999.

Taalas referred to a study by the American Meteorological Society to examine the relationship between climate change and extreme events (droughts, floods and storms) since 2011. “Over half of these extreme events can be related to climate change impacts,” he said.

In 2015, 19.4 million people were forced to leave their homes by these disasters. This enormous displacement of people is greater than that of all wars put together, noted the WMO chief.

“These negative trends will continue,” he warned. “We have to adapt to them. We need more and better early warning systems” for cyclones, for example.

Another impact of climate change measured by the WMO this year is that the oceans are warming faster than before. The effect is bleaching of more coral reefs. “This is desertification of life in the ocean,” Baddour said. “It has a huge impact on fisheries.”