2016 Is Officially Hottest Year On Record, Now What?

WMO has confirmed what meteorologists have been predicting since November last year.

Record-breaking heat, third year in a row.

The World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) already predicted this back in November at the UN global climate summit in Morocco, but now a consolidated analysis of data from several agencies has confirmed it for good.

The average global temperature last year reached about 1.1°C above the pre-industrial era, which has brought us extremely close to the 1.5°C target established at the historical December 2015 Paris climate summit.

“Temperatures only tell part of the story,” says WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas. “Long-term indicators of human-caused climate change reached new heights in 2016. Carbon dioxide and methane concentrations surged to new records.”

The start of the year was characterised by a powerful El Niño, but global temperatures remained above average even after it ended. Australia, as did other parts of the world, experienced many extreme weather events and soaring temperatures.

2003 and 2006 (not shown) tied with 2007. Columns represent difference from 20th century average. Data as of January 18, 2017. Subject to change based on NCEI revisions.
GRAPH BY CLIMATE CENTRAL, DATA SOURCE NOAA/NCEI

Nine out of ten hottest recorded years have occurred in this century. The last two were exceptionally warm due to El Niño, and experts say we might still see cooler years, even though the global averages are steadily on the rise.

“Whilst 2016's annual record is unlikely to be broken again in 2017 in the absence of an El Niño, warming trends are continuing unabated and a new record is only a matter of time,” says Blair Trewin, lead author of the 2016 WMO Global Climate Statement.

Record-breaking temperatures are also having a profound effect on the world’s oceans, leading to coral bleaching in places like the Great Barrier Reef and to loss of sea ice, especially in the Arctic.

What Next?

Experts have used the latest WMO announcement to remind policymakers and the public that, more than ever, everyone needs to work to curb emissions.

“We have a lot of work to do if we want to limit our impact on the climate system by the end of this century—1.5°C will soon pass us by and 2°C is looking dubious,” says Sarah Perkins-Kirkpatrick from the Climate Change Research Centre.

“Australia is especially at risk as we are 8°C hotter than the world average”

“Australia, as a wealthy country with high capacity to act, needs to massively ramp up its greenhouse gas reduction targets,” says Hartmut Fuenfgeld, environmental management expert at RMIT University.

“Australian governments and private sector companies need to invest in climate change adaptation and resilience measures to now plan for the unavoidable impacts that global warming is already bringing to our shores - quite literally in the case of sea level rise, coral bleaching and coastal erosion,” he adds.

Rising temperatures are also likely to bring health risks, especially in the hottest inhabited areas.

“Australia is especially at risk as we are 8°C hotter than the world average,” says Liz Hanna, president of the Climate and Health Alliance.

“Our warmest years of the past are now our coolest. Heat is the new normal, so all Australians, industry and Australia’s health sector must prepare for the heat,” warns Hanna.

“The health sector is preparing a strategy to help steer us towards this new hot future."

For its global weather analysis, WMO draws data from US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, UK’s Met Office Hadley Centre, and the European Centre for Medium Range Weather Forecasts and the Copernicus Climate Change Service.

Header image: With global temperatures rising, desert areas in Australia can expect the searing heat to increase. PHOTO VIA SHUTTERSTOCK

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