Global Temperatures Already 1.1°C Above Pre-Industrial Levels; Last Ten Years Appear To Be Hottest On Record, Says WMO

Madrid – Exceptional global heat waves, retreating ice sheets and record sea levels – all driven by rising concentrations of atmospheric greenhouse gases – are the hallmark of the past decade as 2019 draws to a close, said the World Metereological Organization (WMO) on Tuesday.

The global average temperature in 2019 (January to October) was about 1.1°C above pre-industrial levels. Average temperatures for the past ten years (2010-2019) are “almost certain” to be the highest on record, WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas said in a press conference here on the second day of the UN Climate Conference (COP25).  And 2019 is on course to be the second or third warmest year ever on record. His remarks were based upon a WMO provisional statement on the State of the Global Climate, released simultaneously.

 

Sea level rise has accelerated since the start of satellite measurements in 1993, because of the melting of ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica, according to the report.

The ocean, which acts as a buffer by absorbing heat and carbon dioxide, is paying a heavy price. Ocean heat is at record levels and there have been widespread marine heatwaves. Sea water is 26 percent more acidic than at the start of the industrial era. Vital marine ecosystems are being degraded, the WMO report finds.

The daily Arctic sea-ice extent minimum in September 2019 was the second lowest in the satellite record and October has seen further record low extents. In Antarctica, 2019 saw record low ice extents in some months.

All of these trends are directly linked to record levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, which hit levels of 407.8 parts per million in 2018 and continued to rise in 2019. CO2 persists in the atmosphere for centuries, and for even longer in ocean waters, thus perpetuating temperature rise.

“If we do not take urgent climate action now, then we are heading for a temperature increase of more than 3°C by the end of the century, with ever more harmful impacts on human well-being,” said Taalas, in a press release that accompanied the report. “We are nowhere near on track to meet the Paris Agreement target.”

Record Carbon Dioxide Levels Causing More Floods, Heatwaves & Wildfires

“On a day-to-day basis, the impacts of climate change play out through extreme and “abnormal” weather. And, once again in 2019, weather and climate related risks hit hard. Heatwaves and floods which used to be “once in a century” events are becoming more regular occurrences. Countries ranging from the Bahamas to Japan to Mozambique suffered the effect of devastating  tropical cyclones. Wildfires swept through the Arctic and Australia,” Taalas added.

“One of the main impacts of climate change is more erratic rainfall patterns. This poses a threat to crop yields and, combined with population increase, will mean considerable food security challenges for vulnerable countries in the future,” he said.

The report gives extensive attention to the impacts of warming trends on human health, food security, migration, ecosystems and marine life, based on inputs from the World Health Organization, Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), International Organization for Migration (IOM), and other United Nations partners.

Extreme heat conditions are taking an increasing toll on human health and health systems with greater impacts where there are aging populations, urbanization, urban heat island effects, and health inequities.  In 2018, a record 220 million more heatwave exposures by vulnerable persons over the age of 65 occurred, compared with the average for the baseline of 1986-2005.

Climate variability and extreme weather events are among the key drivers of the recent rise in global hunger and one of the leading causes of severe crises, according to the WMO report.

After a decade of steady decline, hunger is on the rise – with over 820 million people suffering from hunger in 2018.  Among 33 countries affected by food crises in 2018, climate variability and weather extremes are  the leading driver in 12 of the 26 countries at risk, and a compounding factor together with economic shocks and conflict in the other countries.

More than 10 million new internal displacements were recorded between January and June 2019, 7 million being triggered by events such as Cyclone Idai in southeast Africa, Cyclone Fani in south Asia, Hurricane Dorian in the Caribbean, flooding in Iran, the Philippines and Ethiopia, generating acute humanitarian and protection needs.  Detailed excerpts of impacts on health, food security and displacement are provided below, along with details of key climate and weather indicators of the broader trends.

Impacts on Health, Agriculture & Migration

In terms of inputs from other UN agencies, the WHO reports that in 2019, record-setting high temperatures from Australia, India, Japan, and Europe led to significant heat-related deaths and illness. In Japan, a major heat wave event affected the country in late July to early August 2019 resulting in over 100 deaths and 18,000 hospitalizations. Two heatwaves hit much of Europe in the summer of 2019, affecting southwestern to central Europe in June, followed by an even more powerful episode in late July, which affected much of central and western Europe. In the Netherlands, the heatwave was associated with 2 964 deaths, nearly 400 more deaths than during an average summer week.

Changes in climatic conditions since 1950 are also making it easier for the Aedes mosquito species to transmit dengue virus. The global incidence of dengue has grown dramatically in recent decades, and about half of the world population is now at risk of infection. In 2019, the world experienced a large increase in dengue cases, compared with the same time period in 2018.

In terms of agriculture, FAO reports that the start of the seasonal rains was delayed in Southern Africa, and there were extensive dry periods.  As a result, regional cereal output is forecast to be about 8% below the five-year average with 12.5 million people in the region expected to experience severe food insecurity up until March 2020, an increase of more than 10% from the previous year.

Food security has also been deteriorating in several areas of Ethiopia, Somalia, Kenya and Uganda due to a poor rainy season. Overall, about 12.3 million people are food insecure in the Horn of Africa region. Between October and November 2019, Somalia was further affected by intense flooding. In Afghanistan, some  13.5 million people are  food insecure following severe flooding in March 2019, the worst such episode in a decade,  This follows  a period of severe drought in 2018 from which 22 out of 34 provinces are still recovering.

More than 10 million new weather and climate-related internal displacements were recorded between January and June 2019, the IOM reports, Of those, 7 million people were displaced by disasters such as Cyclone Idai in Southeast Africa, Cyclone Fani in South Asia, Hurricane Dorian in the Caribbean, as well as by flooding in Iran, the Philippines and Ethiopia. Overall, floods were the most commonly cited natural hazard contributing to displacement, followed by storms and droughts. Asia and the Pacific remains the world’s most disaster displacement-prone region due to both sudden and slow-onset disasters. The number of new displacements associated with weather extremes could more than triple to around 22 million by the end of 2019, the IOM predicts.

Ice Loss, Ocean Temperatures & Acidification  

The report provides detailed data on temperatures both at land as well as at sea. It notes that global mean temperature for the period January to October 2019 was 1.1 ± 0.1 °C above pre-industrial conditions (1850-1900).  2019 is expected to be the second or third warmest year on record. 2016, which began with an exceptionally strong El Niño, remains the warmest year. Since the 1980s, each successive decade has been warmer than the last.

In terms of the world’s major land masses, most land areas were warmer than the recent average, including South America, Europe, Africa, Asia and Oceania, and the Arctic, with the U.S. state of Alaska was registering exceptionally warm temperatures in 2019. However, a large area of North America has been colder than the recent average.

In October 2019, the global mean sea level reached its highest value since the beginning of the high-precision records in the 1990s. More than 90% of the excess energy accumulating in the climate system as a result of increased concentrations of greenhouse gases goes into the ocean. In the decade 2009-2018, the ocean absorbed around 22% of the annual emissions of CO2, which helps to attenuate climate change.

But ocean temperatures also are rising. In 2019, ocean heat content continued at record or near-record levels, with the average for the year so far exceeding the previous record highs set in 2018. In 2019, the ocean has until now, on average, experienced around 1.5 months of unusually warm temperatures. More of the ocean had a marine heatwave classified as “Strong” (38%) than “Moderate” (28%). In the north-east Pacific, large areas reached a marine heatwave category of “Severe”.

A corresponding, continued long term decline of Arctic sea ice was confirmed in  September 2019, where the monthly average extent of ice (usually the lowest of the year) was the third lowest on record. Until 2016, Antarctic sea ice extent had shown a small long-term increase. In late 2016 this was interrupted by a sudden drop in extent to extreme values. Since then, Antarctic sea-ice extent has remained at relatively low levels. Total ice Mass Balance (TMB) for the Greenland Ice Sheet gives a net ice loss for September 2018 to August 2019 of 329 Gigatonnes (Gt).

Increasing CO2 concentrations also affect the chemistry of the ocean, accelerating acidification. Ocean observations have shown a decrease in the average global surface ocean pH at a rate of 0.017–0.027 pH units per decade since the late 1980s, as reported previously by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.  That is equivalent to an increase in acidity of 26% since the beginning of the industrial revolution.

High impact events – Floods, Droughts, Heatwaves & Wildfires

The 12-month rainfall averaged over the contiguous United States for the period for July 2018 to June 2019 (962 mm) was the highest on record. The onset and withdrawal of the Indian Monsoon were delayed, causing a large precipitation deficit in June but an excess of precipitation in the following months.

Very wet conditions affected parts of South America in January. There was major flooding in northern Argentina, Uruguay and southern Brazil, with losses in Argentina and Uruguay estimated at US$2.5 billion.

The Islamic Republic of Iran was badly affected by flooding in late March and early April. Major flooding affected many hitherto drought-affected parts of east Africa in October and early November.

At the same time, drought affected many parts of southeast Asia and the southwest Pacific in 2019, associated in many cases with the strong positive phase of the Indian Ocean Dipole. Exceptionally dry conditions prevailed from mid-year onwards in Indonesia and neighbouring countries, as well as parts of the Mekong basin further north. Long-term drought conditions which had affected many parts of inland eastern Australia in 2017 and 2018 expanded and intensified in 2019. Averaged over Australia as a whole, January-October was the driest since 1902.

Dry conditions affected many parts of Central America. It was substantially drier than normal in Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua and El Salvador, until heavy rains in October. Central Chile also had an exceptionally dry year, with rainfall for the year to 20 November at Santiago only 82 mm, less than 25% of the long-term average.

Heatwaves

Two major heatwaves occurred in Europe in late June and late July. according to the report. In France, a national record of 46.0°C (1.9°C above the previous record) was set on 28 June. National records were also set in Germany (42.6°C), the Netherlands (40.7°C), Belgium (41.8°C), Luxembourg (40.8°C) and the United Kingdom (38.7°C), with the heat also extending into the Nordic countries, where Helsinki had its highest temperature on record (33.2°C on 28 July).

Australia had an exceptionally hot summer. The mean summer temperature was the highest on record by almost 1°C, and January was Australia’s hottest month on record. The heat was most notable for its persistence but there were also significant individual extremes, including 46.6°C at Adelaide on 24 January, the city’s highest temperature on record

In terms of forest fires, several high-latitude regions saw above-average activity, including Siberia (Russian Federation) and Alaska (US). There were wildfires in some parts of the Arctic – previously extremely rare events.

In South-East Asia, a severe drought in Indonesia and neighbouring countries led to the most significant fire season since 2015. The number of reported fires in Brazil’s Amazonia region was only slightly above the 10-year average, but total fire activity in South America was the highest since 2010, with Bolivia and Venezuela among the countries with particularly active fire years.

Tropical cyclones

Tropical cyclone activity globally in 2019 was slightly above average. The Northern Hemisphere, to date, has had 66 tropical cyclones, compared with the average at this time of year of 56, although accumulated cyclone energy (ACE) was only 2% above average. The 2018-19 Southern Hemisphere season was also above average, with 27 cyclones.

Tropical Cyclone Idai made landfall in Mozambique on 15 March as one of the strongest known on the east coast of Africa, resulting in many casualties and widespread devastation. Idai contributed to the complete destruction of close to 780 000 ha of crops in Malawi, Mozambique, and Zimbabwe, further undermining a precarious food security situation in the region. The cyclone also resulted in at least 50 905 displaced persons in Zimbabwe, 53 237 in southern Malawi and 77 019 in Mozambique. One of the year’s most intense tropical cyclones was Dorian, which made landfall with category 5 intensity in the Bahamas. The destruction was exacerbated as the cyclone was exceptionally slow-moving, remaining near-stationary for about 24 hours. Typhoon Hagibis made landfall west of Tokyo on 12 October, causing severe flooding.

The final State of the Climate report, with complete 2019 data, will be published in March 2020.  See video about the report here.

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