According to data published by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the UN, 2016 will be the hottest year on record. We’ve reached 1.2C above pre-industrial levels and it’s the third year in a row a record is set.

Last year in Paris, a climate agreement was agreed upon by world leaders. But is it enough? Photo by Yann Caradec

I truly hope humanity can create a sustainable future for ourselves and the other inhabitants of the planet. But every time we write a This [month] is the warmest [month] on record article, a part of my hopes withers away.

“Another year. Another record,” said WMO secretary-general, Petteri Taalas. “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,” he said. “‘Once in a generation’ heatwaves and flooding are becoming more regular.”

Greenhouse gas emissions are fueling global warming at an alarming rate — we’ve already went 1.2 degrees Celsius over pre-industrial levels, dangerously close to the optimistic 1.5C goal set in Paris. If we continue in this trend, even the 2C objective will be surpassed with ease.

As Taalas says, we’re already seeing these effects. According to the WMO, at least half the extreme weather events studied in recent years were related to man-caused climate change. In some cases, the chance of heat waves had increased by 1000%. It’s almost as if nature is reacting to what we’re doing.

“It is almost as if mother nature is making a statement,” said climate scientist Michael Mann, at Penn State University in the US. “Just as one of the planet’s two largest emitters of carbon has elected a climate change denier [Donald Trump] – who has threatened to pull out of the Paris accord – to the highest office, she reminds us that she has the final word.”

Mann makes another important argument: we’re already behind.
“Climate change is not like other issues that can be postponed from one year to the next,” he said. “The US and world are already behind; speed is of the essence, because climate change and its impacts are coming sooner and with greater ferocity than anticipated.”
The industrial revolution started centuries ago, and for the most part, we simply didn’t realize the problem. Then, we didn’t want to accept it and then, we couldn’t decide how important it is to reduce emissions. It took 21 years of UN conferences before a comprehensive agreement could be reached, and now it’s time to start acting — but we’re still too slow. What global leaders agreed to do (assuming they keep their promises) just isn’t enough.

Glimmers of hope

For the third year straight, our emissions have remained relatively stable while our economy has grown (globally). This means that we’ve managed to ensure economic growth and decouple it from CO2 emissions. So fighting global warming doesn’t have to lead to economic losses, on the contrary — it often leads to profits. Now, we need to see how we can do the same thing while decreasing our emissions.
“This third year of almost no growth in emissions is unprecedented at a time of strong economic growth. This is a great help for tackling climate change but it is not enough. Global emissions now need to decrease rapidly, not just stop growing.”
So we’re doing some things right, we just need to do more. The process has already been set in motion, and it has a tremendous inertia – global temperatures will continue to grow more and more if we don’t do enough. Business as usual just isn’t going to cut it.
According to The Guardian, the WMO’s temperature analysis combines the three main records, from the Met Office, Nasa and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and stretches back to 1880.

Enjoyed this article? Join 40,000+ subscribers to the ZME Science newsletter. Subscribe now!

Estimate my solar savings!