2016 was the hottest year on record, setting a new high for the third year in a row, with scientists firmly putting the blame on human activities that drive climate change.
The final data for 2016 was released on Wednesday by the three key agencies – the UK Met Office and Nasa and Noaa in the US – and showed 16 of the 17 hottest years on record have been this century.
With climate sceptics moving into the White House, the Guardian is spending 24 hours focusing on climate change – and what we can all do to help save the planet. Direct temperature measurements stretch back to 1880, but scientific research indicates the world was last this warm about 115,000 years ago and that the planet has not experienced such high levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere for 4m years.
In 2016, global warming delivered scorching temperatures around the world. The resulting extreme weather means the impacts of climate change on people are coming sooner and with more ferocity than expected, according to scientists.
The natural El Niño climate phenomenon, which helped ramp up temperatures to “shocking” levels in early 2016, has now waned, but carbon emissions were the major factor and will continue to drive rising heat.
Gavin Schmidt, director of Nasa’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, said: “El Niño was a factor this year, but both 2015 and 2016 would have been records even without it.” He said about 90% of the warming signal in 2016 was due to rising greenhouse gas emissions. He expects 2017 to be another extremely hot year.
The new data shows the Earth has now risen about 1.1C above the levels seen before the industrial revolution, when large-scale fossil fuel burning began. This brings it perilously close to the 1.5C target included as an aim of the global climate agreement signed in Paris in December 2015.
The head of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), Petteri Taalas, said in November: “The extra heat from the powerful El Niño event has disappeared. The heat from global warming will continue. Because of climate change, the occurrence and impact of extreme events has risen. ‘Once in a generation’ heatwaves and flooding are becoming more regular.”
A WMO report said human-induced global warming had contributed to at least half the extreme weather events studied in recent years, with the risk of extreme heat increasing by 10 times in some cases.
Damian Carrington – Wednesday 18 January for The Guardian