The planet is halfway to dangerous levels of global warming, with the average temperature for 2015 set to eclipse last year’s record, the United Nations said.
This year’s average temperature will be “approximately” 1 degree Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit) above the 1880-1899 mean for the first time, the UN’s World Meteorological Organization said Wednesday in an e-mailed report. That compares with the 2-degree threshold beyond which scientists say the effects of climate change risk becoming catastrophic.
“This is all bad news for the planet,” said WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud. “Greenhouse gas emissions, which are causing climate change, can be controlled. We have the knowledge and the tools to act. We have a choice. Future generations will not.”
The data may put an end to the notion touted by skeptics of man-made climate change that warming has been on hold since 1998, another year in which the El Niño phenomenon boosted temperatures. Since then, no year had been warmer than 1998 by an amount greater than the margin of error. The UN in its biggest ever assessment of climate change in 2013 explained the so-called hiatus saying warming had slowed, but not stopped.
The data were released in time to spur envoys from 195 nations into action as they prepare for two weeks of talks on a new climate change deal intended to limit warming to 2 degrees. More than 130 world leaders will gather at the UN conference on Monday to open the negotiations, six years after a similar attempt failed in Copenhagen.
The average surface temperature across land and sea is 0.73 degree Celsius above the 1961 through 1990 average, compared with 0.61 degree last year, according to the agency. The 2014 temperature, revised since last year, is the highest logged for a full year in a series going back to 1880. Typically, new records are only set by a few hundredths of a degree.
Even 2 degrees of warming would entail a degree of sea level rise that threatens low-lying territories, and a bloc of 39 island nations is pushing for the temperature ceiling to be lowered to 1.5 degrees Celsius to protect their territory.
Temperatures have been boosted in 2015 by El Niño, a periodic warming of the tropical Pacific that typically leads to warmer years worldwide. El Niños occur irregularly every two to seven years.
This year has already logged the warmest March, May, June, July, August, September and October on record, according to monthly reports by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. January and February were the second hottest, and April was the fourth-warmest in a series beginning in 1880.
The WMO said earlier this month that concentrations of the three main greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide, all rose to records in the atmosphere in 2014. That signals more warming to come, because the heat-trapping gases can remain in the atmosphere for decades.
The WMO compiles its temperature figures using three data sets produced by the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration, NOAA and a collaboration between the U.K. Met Office and the University of East Anglia.
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