Oops, we did it again! This year is on track to be the fourth warmest year on record, making the last four years – in temperature order, 2016, 2015, 2017, and 2018 – the top four hottest years ever recorded. In fact, 20 of the last 22 years have been the warmest on record.
The United Nations' World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) announced the bleak, but perhaps unsurprising, news in their provisional Statement on the State of the Climate in 2018 report. Based on five independent global temperature data sets, they deduced that the global average temperature for the period January to October 2018 was around 0.98°C above pre-industrial levels, with a ±0.12°C statistical margin of error.
“These are more than just numbers,” Elena Manaenkova, WMO Deputy Secretary-General, said in a statement.
“Every fraction of a degree of warming makes a difference to human health and access to food and fresh water, to the extinction of animals and plants, to the survival of coral reefs and marine life. It makes a difference to economic productivity, food security, and to the resilience of our infrastructure and cities. It makes a difference to the speed of glacier melt and water supplies, and the future of low-lying islands and coastal communities.”
“Every extra bit matters,” said Manaenkova.
Global temperatures are influenced by both natural – La Niña or El Niño weather events, for example – and human factors – like increasing carbon emissions leading to climate change.
2018 is actually set to be coolest of the past four years, largely thanks to the weak La Niña weather event earlier in the year, which is typically associated with lower global temperatures, rather than due to some miraculous drop in carbon emissions. The next few months, however, are likely to see the start of a new El Niño weather event, which will almost certainly boost 2019 global temperatures.
The release of the UN’s landmark climate report, the IPCC Special Report, in October starkly highlighted what’s at stake if the world's global average temperature rises to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels: massive loss of wildlife, droughts, prolonged tropical storms, heatwaves, wildfires, melting Arctic sea ice, potential food shortages, etc, etc.
However, simply not enough is being done to address the problem – still. Another new report released earlier this week showed that carbon emissions are back on the rise again after three years, and we’re desperately off meeting all carbon targets.
“We are not on track to meet climate change targets and rein in temperature increases,” said Petteri Taalas, Secretary-General of the WMO.
“Greenhouse gas concentrations are once again at record levels and if the current trend continues we may see temperature increases 3-5°C by the end of the century."
The message couldn't be any clearer.
“It is worth repeating once again that we are the first generation to fully understand climate change and the last generation to be able to do something about it,” he said.