2016 on course to be hottest year on record

World Meteorological Organization states climate change has caused the number of extreme weather events to rise.

People walk along a street in downtown as clean up from Hurricane Matthew continues in Jeremie
There have been multiple severe weather events this year, including Hurricane Matthew [Logan Abassi/Reuters]

It is “very likely” that 2016 will be the hottest year on record.

According to a provisional statement on the Status of the Global Climate by the World Meteorological Organization, global temperatures are so warm that they are expected to break the record highs set in 2015.

This would mean that 16 of the 17 hottest years on record have been in the 21st century. The El Nino year of 1998 is the only exception.

This year also started during an El Nino event. The warming of the Pacific Ocean usually raises the global temperatures.

However, as WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas pointed out: “The extra heat from the powerful El Nino event has disappeared. The heat from global warming will continue.”

Taalas also warns that “because of climate change, the occurrence and impact of extreme events has risen. ‘Once in a generation’ heatwaves and flooding are becoming more regular”.

Globally temperatures are now 1.2C above pre-industrial levels and 0.9C above the average for the 1961-1990 period, which the WMO used as a baseline.

But as has been previously reported by climate scientists, the globe is not heating uniformly. In parts of Arctic Russia, temperatures were 6 to 7C above the long-term average. Many other northern parts of Russia, Alaska and northwest Canada were at least 3C above average.

The only large land areas with below-average temperatures were parts or Argentina, Paraguay and Bolivia in South America.

The temperature of the oceans was also above normal in most areas. This led to some significant coral bleaching and disruption of marine ecosystems in many tropical waters, including Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, which reported up to 50 percent coral mortality.

The increase in temperature led to a global sea level rise of 15 millimetres between November 2014 and February 2016. This is well above the recent trend of 3 to 3.5mm per year.

As the temperatures rose, the Arctic sea ice extent remained well below average throughout the year.

The winter maximum extent of the ice in March was the lowest on record.

The seasonal minimum in September was 4.14 million square kilometres, making it the second lowest extent on record after 2012.

This year’s global temperature rise also triggered numerous disastrous weather events.

The most deadly was October’s Hurricane Matthew, which left more than 1,000 people dead in Haiti. 

China was also hit by severe weather this year. The Yangtze River basin was swamped by the most extensive summer floods seen since 1999. At least 310 people lost their lives in the disaster, which was estimated to have caused $14bn in damages.

Sri Lanka was also inundated by rain. Mid-May floods and landslides left more than 200 people dead.

As well as flooding, 2016 was also plagued by severe heatwaves.

In Kuwait, the temperature soared to 54.0C, which, after formal verification, will be the highest temperature ever recorded in Asia.

Thailand and India had a new national records, with temperatures of 44.6C and 51.0C respectively.

In South Africa, a number of station records were also set, including 42.7C in Pretoria and 38.9C in Johannesburg.

Southern Africa’s heatwave exacerbated the ongoing drought in the region. The World Food Programme estimates that 17 million people will require assistance before the next harvest in early 2017.

The disruption to the climate, and its impact on the environment, is having a dramatic effect on the global population.

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, in 2015 there were 19.2 million newly displaced people owing to the weather, water, climate and geophysical hazards in 113 countries.

This figure more than doubles the number of people who were displaced owing to conflict and violence.

The figures for 2016 are not yet available, but according to the Food and Agriculture Organization, 2015 and 2016 collectively saw more than 60 million people around the world affected by severe weather and climatic events.

As we head towards the end of the year, 2016 looks set to be one for the record books. Concern now focuses on 2017 and whether the warming trend will continue.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies