Depending on where you live, you may have been feeling nostalgic for winters the way you remember them as a child. Do the winters seem less cold than they once were? Does the summer seem to start earlier and feature rather too many stinkers than you’d like? Unfortunately, it’s not your imagination.
Just five days short of the start of the start of the UN Climate Change Conference in Paris, the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) has issued its provisional statement on the status of the world’s climate in 2015, plus an additional five-year analysis for 2011-2015.
It’s not great news.
While the 2015 data rests on figures only from January to October (hence it being a ‘provisional’ statement), the UN’s leading climate authorities believe the global average surface temperature in 2015 is likely to be the warmest on record and to reach the symbolic and significant milestone of 1° Celsius above the pre-industrial era*.
It is due, they say, to a combination of a strong El Niño – a cyclical prolonged warming in the Pacific Ocean sea surface temperatures when compared with the average – and human-induced global warming.
At the same time, the statement reports that the five years from 2011-2015, have been the warmest five-year period on record, with many extreme weather events – especially heatwaves – influenced by climate change.
The WMO Secretary-General, Michel Jarraud said the report will make history for a number of reasons, none of them good.
“Levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere reached new highs and in the Northern hemisphere spring 2015, the three-month global average concentration of CO2 (carbon dioxide) crossed the 400 parts per million barrier for the first time.
“2015 is likely to be the hottest year on record, with ocean surface temperatures at the highest level since measurements began. It is probable that the 1°C Celsius threshold will be crossed*,” said Mr Jarraud. “This is all bad news for the planet.”
“Added to that, we are witnessing a powerful El Niño event, which is still gaining in strength. This is influencing weather patterns in many parts of the world and fuelled an exceptionally warm October. The overall warming impact of this El Niño is expected to continue into 2016,” said Mr Jarraud.
But there is good news if the ‘Paris talks’ are successful.
The purpose of the Paris conference
The purpose of the Paris conference is to agree a way of limiting greenhouse gas emissions, while allowing countries to continue to grow their economies, and also ensuring that assistance is available for the least developed countries and those most affected by rising temperatures.
While the world’s governments have committed to reducing human activities such as burning fossil fuels that release the gases that interfere with the climate, the biggest challenge of the climate talks in Paris will be getting 195 countries to agree on how to deal with the issue of climate change.
Negotiations around trying to agree a plan of action have been ongoing since 1992 through the Conference of the Parties – a meeting of all States that are members of the international climate change treaty of 1992 known as the Kyoto Protocol – so far without reaching agreement.
However, negotiators did agree in 2011 that a deal had to be done by the end of 2015. That makes this year’s COP21 climate conference in Paris the last chance for this process.
While observers note that this is probably the most ambitious international co-operative ideal ever proposed, there is now extremely strong support for an agreed outcome.
“Greenhouse gas emissions, which are causing climate change, can be controlled,” Mr Jarraud said. “We have the knowledge and the tools to act. We have a choice. Future generations will not.”
(* Scientists say that if the earth warms about 2°C above pre-industrial times, there will be dangerous and unpredictable impacts on our climate system and 1°C warming – the halfway mark – is seen as an important tipping point.)
What methods does the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) use in its analysis?
The WMO reports are based on contributions from WMO’s 191 Members.
The global temperature analysis is principally derived from three complementary datasets maintained by:
- the Hadley Centre of the UK’s Met Office and the Climatic Research Unit, University of East Anglia, United Kingdom (combined);
- the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) National Centres for Environmental Information; and
- the Goddard Institute of Space Studies (GISS) operated by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).
Global average temperatures are also estimated using reanalysis systems, which use a weather forecasting system to combine many sources of data to provide a more complete picture of global temperatures.
WMO uses data from the reanalysis produced by the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts and the Japan Meteorological Agency.