Climatologists have been predicting it for the last few months, but with all the data now analyzed, it’s official: 2015 was the hottest year since records began in 1850. The news comes after three of the world’s major organizations have concluded their independent analysis of their climate data and unanimously drew the same conclusion. This is the second year in a row that global temperatures have broken the record, and if current trends continue, then it looks like 2016 will make it a third.
The results were released by NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the U.K. Met Office, who all agree the data show a worrying trend. Although the heads of state all gathered in Paris at the end of last year to agree to limit global warming to below 2°C (3.2°F), while striving to prevent average temperatures to rise above 1.5°C (2.7°F), it may already be too late for that. “2015 was a record-breaking year for our climate. Global mean temperatures reached 1°C [1.6°F] above pre-industrial levels for the first time and the year's average global temperature was the highest ever recorded,” says Peter Stott, from the Met Office in the U.K.
The consequences of the mercury creeping ever higher have already started to be felt across the globe, although due to nuances in the weather and climate patterns, some places are being hit harder than others. India, for example, experienced the second-worst heat wave in the country’s history last year, claiming more than 2,300 lives when temperatures reached up to an unforgiving 48°C (118°F) in some cities. China, on the other hand, was severely hit by flooding, costing the nation an estimated $25 billion (£16.6 billion) and affecting 75 million people.
This all occurred even before we take into account what could be one of the worst El Niño events the world has seen in a century, which has only acted to exasperate what was already set to be the hottest year. With its continuation into 2016, it’s putting things in place to make this year equally warm, if not hotter. Such a large El Niño not only impacts the Americas, playing a hand in the flooding in South America and the record warm December across much of the United States, but might also create problems as far away as Africa, causing droughts and potentially famine.
Normally when heat records are set, they are reached gradually, but this year saw the average global temperature jump by a staggering quarter of a degree fahrenheit, adding to the thoughts that temperatures are rising at an increasingly rapid rate. According to the Met’s figures, 2015 was a whopping 0.75°C higher than the average from 1961 to 1990. While there are slight discrepancies between the meteorological organizations due to differences in methods and data sets, they all converge on the overall outcomes.
“Climate change is the challenge of our generation, and NASA’s vital work on this important issue affects every person on Earth,” explains Charles Bolden, NASA’s administrator, in a statement. “Today’s announcement not only underscores how critical NASA’s Earth observation program is, it is a key data point that should make policy makers stand up and take notice – now is the time to act on climate.”