The Last 4 Years Have Been the Hottest on Record

The UN has announced that the past four years have been the hottest since records began, while separate reports suggest our hopes of keeping global warming below 1.5 C are now slipping through our fingers.

Using recognized world-leading data, the United Nations’ World Meteorological Organization (WMO) has demonstrated that the world’s average surface temperature for 2018 was 1 C above pre-industrial temperatures. Scientists use pre-industrial temperatures as a baseline figure for what the world would be like if we hadn’t pumped massive amounts of insulating gas into our atmosphere.

This makes 2018 the fourth warmest year on record. To date, 2016 remains the warmest, with the El-Niño weather phenomenon driving temperatures to 1.2 C above the baseline. As this phenomena comes around every few years, it is unlikely to be the last time we see this spike.

This confirms observed trends showing the warmest two decades on record have occurred in the past 22 years. Weather patterns can fluctuate wildly from year to year, so the remarkable consistency of this pattern is enough to suggest that this warmer baseline is quickly becoming the norm—and it may be increasing.

A Warming Climate is the New Normal

“The long-term temperature trend is far more important than the ranking of individual years, and that trend is an upward one,” WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas said in a statement. “The degree of warming during the past four years has been exceptional, both on land and in the ocean.”

Taalas warned that to look only at temperatures misses part of the story. The data is clear that the world’s changing climate is impacting adverse weather events. ”Extreme and high impact weather affected many countries and millions of people, with devastating repercussions for economies and ecosystems in 2018,” he said.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration corroborates this in a separate report confirming that last year was the fourth warmest on record. The agency also identified 14 major natural disaster events  in 2018 that have cost the US alone billions of dollars and claimed 247 lives. These included Hurricanes Michael and Florence, which cost $25 billion and $24 billion respectively, and the wildfires that have ravaged the west coast and cost $24 billion to date.

“The average global temperature during 2018 was 1.42 degrees F above the 20th-century average,” NOAA notes in its 2018 analysis overview. “This marks the 42nd consecutive year (since 1977) with an above-average global temperature. Nine of the 10 warmest years have occurred since 2005, with the last five years comprising the five hottest.”

Perhaps just as concerning, both agencies highlight that January of 2019 has picked up exactly where 2018 left off, with a hotter-than-average January ravaging Australia. The World Meteorological Organization says this, together with dry weather in Tasmania causing bushfires, adds up to one clear and definitive fact: intense heat waves appear to be more frequent as our planet warms.

What About the Polar Vortex?

This might be going on in Australia, but January saw some terribly cold conditions in the US thanks to the Polar Vortex. For people like President Trump, this apparently disproves climate change and global warming—but he is wrong.

A failure to distinguish between climate and weather is at the heart of this error, with climate referring to the persistent patterns in our weather and atmosphere over the long term. Weather, on the other hand, is the day-to-day pattern we can readily observe when we see it is sunny or raining, warm or frigid.

Indeed, freezing weather in one part of the globe while another is enduring blazing heat actually could be caused by rising temperatures as a whole. Extreme cold results from shifting ice cover on our planet which can, and apparently has, changed the polar vortex.

The UK’s Met Office also just released its data on 2018, and the patterns it expects for the next five or so years—and the outlook is not a cause for optimism. The Met Office believes that temperatures will be at least 1 C over pre-industrial levels.

Even more worryingly, the Met Office says there is a chance that we will see one year within the next five where global temperatures exceed 1.5 C. The Paris Agreement made clear that this was the preferred limit that we should put on rising temperatures, with 2 C being the stopgap measure.

Our governments must take these separate agencies’ reports as a warning and act. To do anything less is to ignore the reality and gravity of this now-pressing climate emergency.

Photo credit: Getty Images.

53 comments

Peggy B
Peggy B23 days ago

TYFS

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Chad Anderson
Chad Aabout a month ago

Thank you.

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hELEN hEARFIELD
hELEN hEARFIELDabout a month ago

tyfs

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Shae Lee
Shae Leeabout a month ago

Thank you for sharing!

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Louise A
Louise Aabout a month ago

tyfs

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Ruth S
Ruth Sabout a month ago

Thanks.

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Ruth S
Ruth Sabout a month ago

Thanks.

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Leanne K
Leanne Kabout a month ago

So when are we going to drastically cut down on our population numbers, coz that's is the best solutiin

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Clare O'Beara
Clare O'Bearaabout a month ago

We are already at 2 degrees as far as I can tell.

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Clare O'Beara
Clare O'Bearaabout a month ago

th

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