The planet is already at a place where it will be very difficult to meet the aspirational goal of the Paris climate agreement
Between January and September 2016, the world’s average temperature was 1.2 degrees Celsius above the pre-Industrial Age. This is very close to the aspirational goal in the Paris Agreement to keep the rise within 1.5 degrees.
The UN Environment Programme said recently that global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions have to peak by 2020 to keep the temperature rise within 1.5 degrees. Petteri Taalas, head of the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO), has now said that may not be enough, and ways may have to be found to remove carbon dioxide – the main GHG – from the atmosphere.
Taalas was speaking at the launch of the latest WMO report on the state of the atmosphere at the UN climate summit in Marrakech, Morocco. Going by the first nine months of 2016, this year is over 90% certain to be the hottest on record, he said. The average temperature during these nine months was 0.88 degrees Celsius above the long-term average (1961-90). This has been corroborated by other studies as well.
The result has been a significant surge in the number and intensity of droughts, floods and storms. Omar Baddour, senior WMO scientist, pointed out that India and Russia have had record heat waves this year. Phalodi in Rajasthan recorded 51 degrees Celsius on May 19 this year. Some areas in Arctic Russia showed temperatures six degrees above the long-term average. The Yangtze basin in China had its worst summer floods since 1999. Storms have killed thousands around the world.
All these events have serious adverse effects on economies everywhere. The heat wave in India affected its sugarcane production. That raised sugar prices around the world. For more than a fortnight now, sugar has disappeared from shops in Egypt, as the country struggles with its balance of payments situation.
Climate change impacts
Taalas referred to a study by the American Meteorological Society to examine the relationship between climate change and extreme events (droughts, floods and storms) since 2011. “Over half of these extreme events can be related to climate change impacts,” he said.
In 2015, 19.4 million people were forced out of their homes by these disasters, more than the displacement that year in all the wars put together, the WMO chief pointed out. “These negative trends will continue,” he warned. “We have to adapt to them. We need more and better early warning systems” for cyclones, for example.
Inevitably, Taalas was asked to react to US president-elect Donald Trump, who denies that the climate is changing due to human activities. “We are scientists, we are measuring the changes, climate change is a scientific fact,” he replied. Then he added, “US academics are contributing to this science in a big way.”
Another huge impact of climate change measured by the WMO this year is that the oceans are warming faster than before. The effect is bleaching of more coral reefs. “This is desertification of life in the ocean,” Baddour said. “It has a huge impact on fisheries.”