2016 on track to be warmest on record, says UN weather agency

The World Meteorological Organization says that 2016 is set to break the record for the hottest year globally.

Mahesh Kumar A./AP/File
A woman cools herself on a hot summer day in Hyderabad, in the southern Indian state of Telangana, in 2015. The UN weather agency said on Monday that 2016 is set to break the record for the hottest year since measurements began in the 19th century.

Unless a freak cold snap arrives during the final weeks of 2016, this year is set to be the hottest on record.

The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) published the announcement as negotiations at the United Nations Climate Change conference continue in Morocco. This gathering began just three days after the Paris climate deal entered force, which met the requirements of being ratified by at least 55 member states, representing at least 55 percent of global emissions, far sooner than expected.

Yet the unexpected victory of Donald Trump in the US presidential election, a self-proclaimed climate change skeptic who is seeking to pull the United States out of the 2015 Paris agreement, has overshadowed the talks.

“Another year. Another record,” said WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas in his organization’s statement. “The extra heat from the powerful El Niño event has disappeared. The heat from global warming will continue.”

Sixteen of the 17 hottest years since records began in the late 1800s have occurred in this century, the only exception being the year 1998. So far, last year was the hottest.

If all continues as expected, 2016 will trump 2015, with average surface temperatures 1.2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels. The Paris agreement seeks to limit that rise to no more than 2 degrees Celsius, or even no more than 1.5 degrees.

“In parts of Arctic Russia, temperatures were 6°C to 7°C above the long-term average,” said Mr. Taalas. “Many other Arctic and sub-Arctic regions in Russia, Alaska and northwest Canada were at least 3°C above average. We are used to measuring temperature records in fractions of a degree, and so this is different.”

The only large land area to experience below-average temperatures so far this year was a portion of subtropical South America – northern and central Argentina, lowland Bolivia, and parts of Paraguay.

The rising global temperatures are being blamed for an array of “extreme events,” as Taalas puts it. These include flooding and heatwaves of an intensity normally seen no more than once in a generation, alongside sea level rise and increasingly ferocious storms, which, combined, leave coastal communities ever more vulnerable.

The  world's two biggest emitters of greenhouse gases, the United States and China, agreed in September to work toward implementing the Paris agreement. Indeed, the US was one of the principle architects of that accord, and President Obama has made the fight against climate change a key priority of his second term.

With President-elect Donald Trump threatening to reverse that approach, many environmentalists worry about the future trajectory of US policy toward climate. Yet some observers suggest this change of course could serve to ignite the issue of climate change in public discourse.

“By making the issue a small one – not worth a dollar of spending in his policy agenda,” wrote The Christian Science Monitor’s Mark Trumbull, “Mr. Trump appears likely to make it a bigger one than ever in the public square.”

This report includes material from the Associated Press and Reuters.

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