Earth on track for hottest year ever as warming speeds up

By Stephanie Nebehay 
Reuters

GENEVA – The earth is on track for its hottest year on record and warming at a faster rate than expected, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said Thursday.

Temperatures recorded mainly in the northern hemisphere in the first six months of the year, coupled with an early and fast Arctic sea ice melt and “new highs” in heat-trapping carbon dioxide levels, point to quickening climate change, it said.

June marked the 14th straight month of record heat, the United Nations agency said. It called for speedy implementation of a global pact reached in Paris last December to limit climate change by shifting from fossil fuels to green energy by 2100.

“What we’ve seen so far for the first six months of 2016 is really quite alarming,” David Carlson, director of the WMO’s Climate Research Program, told a news briefing.

“This year suggests that the planet can warm up faster than we expected in a much shorter time… We don’t have as much time as we thought.”

The average temperature in the first six months of 2016 was 1.3° Celsius (2.4° Fahrenheit) warmer than the pre-industrial era of the late 19th Century, according to space agency NASA.

Under the Paris Agreement, nearly 200 governments agreed to limit global warming to well below 2°C (3.6°F) above pre-industrial levels, while “pursuing efforts” for a ceiling of 1.5°C – a lower limit already close to being reached.

The last month with global temperatures below the 20th century average was December 1984, according to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

White canvas covers protect parts of the Rhone glacier against melting as visitors enter an ice cave near the Furka mountain pass at 2429 metres (7969 ft) altitude in the Swiss Alps, Switzerland August 6, 2015. Switzerland's national flag is pictured in the foreground. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann/File Photo
White canvas covers protect parts of the Rhone glacier against melting as visitors enter an ice cave near the Furka mountain pass at 7969 ft altitude in the Swiss Alps, Switzerland August 6, 2015. | REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann/File Photo
‘Extraordinary year’

“There’s almost no plausible scenario at this point that is going to get us anything other than an extraordinary year in terms of ice (melt), CO2, temperature – all the things that we track,” Carlson said.

“If we got this much surprise this year, how many more surprises are ahead of us?”

A strong El Nino weather event from 2015/2016 in the Pacific Ocean, a phenomenon associated with extreme droughts, storms and floods, contributed to the record temperatures in the first half of 2016 before disappearing in May, WMO said.

“Climate change, caused by heat-trapping greenhouse gases, will not (disappear). This means we face more heatwaves, more extreme rainfall and potential for higher impact tropical cyclones,” said WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas.

Repeated extremes, such as heatwaves, downpours or droughts, could encourage more action to limit greenhouse gas emissions.

“Research shows that for the general public extremes make climate change more tangible, more understandable,” said Joeri Rogelj, a climate expert at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Vienna.

“It could help to motivate people to engage in climate action, and do something.”

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