Another day, another dire report on the planet's future. The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) has released a provisional Statement on the State of the Climate in 2018, and the picture it paints is all too familiar: temperature records were shattered, sea ice shrank and extreme weather events devastated every continent in one of the hottest years on record.
The WMO is an intergovernmental organization and a specialized agency of the United Nations for weather and climate, Earth's water cycle and other geophysical sciences. The report is assembled from data gathered from climate institutions all over the world, including the Met Office Hadley Center in the UK and NOAA and NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies in the US.
The main take-away from the report might be that 2018 is the fourth hottest year on record, in terms of average global temperature. If that doesn't sound too bad, remember that the three hotter years are the previous three years: 2016 still holds the number one spot, followed by 2015 and then 2017. If we extend the scoreboard to the top 20, they all fall within the past 22 years, showing a pretty clear upward trend.
While the data only takes into account the first 10 months of 2018 (hence the provisional status on the report), the global average temperature for that period was almost 1° C (1.8° F) above the pre-industrial baseline, measured as the average between 1850 and 1900. This global average wasn't just from one source either, but five independent data sets.
Local average temperatures were also much higher than usual. Helsinki reported a record long run of 25 consecutive days of over 25° C (77° F), and strong heatwaves gripped Germany, France, the UK, Ireland, Spain and Portugal. Japan and South Korea reported new heat records of over 41° C (105.8° F), Algeria broke 51.3° C (124° F) for the first time and Oman sweated through a sleepless night with an overnight low of 42.6° C (109° F).
The Statement also shows that the oceans were much warmer, with each of the first three quarters of the year recording the highest or second highest ocean heat content on record. As a result, the extent of sea ice in both the Arctic and Antarctic was well below average, which has raised the Global Mean Sea Level between January and July 2018 by 2 to 3 mm over the first half of last year.
Extreme weather events struck all across the globe, breaking records that we really don't want to be breaking. The long-term annual average for tropical cyclones is 53, but this year saw 70 storms reported, including some of the worst on record. Hurricanes Florence and Michael may have grabbed many headlines in the US, but Mangkhut, Yutu, Jebi, Son-Tinh and Soulik caused considerable damage throughout Asia.
Heavy rainfall caused flooding in India, Japan, Kenya, Somalia, Ethiopia, Tanzania, and around the Mediterranean Sea. At the other end of the scale, drought gripped Germany, the Czech Republic, the Netherlands, Belgium, Uruguay, and parts of Australia, Poland, France and Argentina.
Greece and Scandinavia suffered through major wildfires, while British Columbia and California reported the most devastating wildfire seasons on record in their respective countries.
Keeping the average temperature to 2° C (3.6° F) above pre-industrial levels has been declared the bare minimum threshold to stave off the worst effects of climate change. Unfortunately, the UN Environment's Emissions Gap Report, released earlier this week, points out that we're not yet on track to meet that target.
The UN is meeting in December to discuss climate change policies and begin implementing the guidelines to meeting this goal set out in the Paris Agreement. This WMO report will help inform those negotiations.
"Every fraction of a degree of warming makes a difference to human health and access to food and fresh water, to the extinction of animals and plants, to the survival of coral reefs and marine life," says Elena Manaenkova, Deputy Secretary-General of WMO. "It makes a difference to economic productivity, food security, and to the resilience of our infrastructure and cities. It makes a difference to the speed of glacier melt and water supplies, and the future of low-lying islands and coastal communities. Every extra bit matters."
The report can be viewed in full online (PDF) and some of its scary statistics are highlighted in the video below.
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