Last year saw record after record broken, from heat waves to coral bleaching, as climate change truly kicked in. But if you thought that last year might have been a simple anomaly, well there’s bad news, as the trend is set to continue into 2017.
The annual report by the World Meteorological Organization has this year, for the first time, partnered with the United Nations. This is because as the effects of climate change start to bite, it won’t just be our weather that is affected, there will be social and economic impacts too.
“Globally averaged sea surface temperatures were also the warmest on record, global sea levels continued to rise, and Arctic sea-ice extent was well below average for most of the year,” said WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas. “With levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere consistently breaking new records, the influence of human activities on the climate system has become more and more evident.”
The report has found that every year since 2001 has been at least 0.4°C (0.72°F) warmer than the 1961-1990 baseline used by the WMO, with a strong trend in warming of global temperatures by between 0.1°C and 0.2°C (0.18-0.36°F) per decade. This warming was exacerbated in 2016 by the particularly strong El Niño that developed off the east coast of the Americas, though the weather event by itself was still not enough to explain away the abnormally hot temperatures that were experienced around the globe.
The Arctic, for example, has been particularly hard hit. Global sea ice extent was down by 4 million square kilometers (1.5 million square miles) in November when compared to the average, a terrifying anomaly for that time of year and completely unprecedented. The sea ice maximum has been declining by 3.2 percent per decade, while the minimum has been crashing by 13.3 percent per decade, increasing the chance that soon we’ll be seeing an ice-free Arctic during the summer months.
Recent surveys have found that while many now accept man-made climate change is occurring, it will not really affect them until some point in the distant future. This latest report challenges that. Mathematical models are now able to show evidence that climate change is driving many high impact extreme events, from the heat waves that ravaged Australia, to Hurricane Mathew that smashed Haiti and caused significant economic losses in the United States.
Climate change is happening, we are feeling its effects now. “Even without a strong El Niño in 2017, we are seeing other remarkable changes across the planet that are challenging the limits of our understanding of the climate system,” said World Climate Research Programme Director David Carlson. “We are now in truly uncharted territory.”