The World Meteorological Organisation says 2014 is on track to be the hottest on record, driven by the highest global sea surface temperatures yet recorded. It says there is no standstill in global warming, and noted that greenhouse gas levels are now at the highest level, having breached 400 parts per million in the northern hemisphere in April this year.
The WMO assessment was released in the middle of the first week of climate talks. WMO secretary general Michael Jarraud said 14 of the warmest 15 years recorded occurred in the 21st century.
“What is particularly unusual and alarming this year are the high temperatures of vast areas of the ocean surface, including in the northern hemisphere,” he said, noting that it was not an “El Nino” year.
Land temperatures so far this year (to the end of October) are 0.86°C above the 1961-90 average, making it the fourth or fifth warmest on record, but ocean temperatures are 0.45°C above the average, the highest ever. Around 93 per cent of the excess energy trapped in the atmosphere by greenhouses from fossil fuels and other human activities ends up in the oceans.
UNFCCC executive secretary Christian Figueres said the WMO report, along with the IPCC synthesis report and the UNEP emissions gap report should rally the 194 countries at the talk to reach a deal by Paris next year.
“We will have peaks and valleys in (annual) temperatures,” she said. “But if you look at the trend, it is very clear that over the last six decades, every single decade has been warmed than the previous one.”
She said policy must follow the science. And that meant getting to a global peak in emissions within the next 10 years, and to work now to make sure that the peak is not too high. Right now, however, it was looking as though the world would overshoot its targets, which is to limit average global warming to 2C above the long term average.
“We need to construct a process to diminish the gap between where we ought to be and where we are,” she said.
The WMO report highlighted the most notable climate anomalies and events over the year to date. As this graph illustrates, south-east Australia was one of six areas to experience heat waves with extremely high temperatures – something that continued into November – while others had experience heavy rain and floods, drought, and in the case of the Great Lakes in north America, and western Siberia, extremely cold temperatures.
The WMO noted that large areas of southern and western Australia were “especially warm”, although it had experienced a cold wave in August. The south-west Pacific Ocean and much of the Indian Ocean wee among those with unusually high temperatures.
In early 2014, the global average measured sea level reached a record high for the time of the year, while Arctic sea ice contracted to its sixth lowest on record. Antarctic sea ice, on the other hand, set a new record high for the third consecutive year. This is though to be due to changes in prevailing winds around Antarctica, but could also be due to other factors such as changing ocean circulation.
Figueres said the oceans were doing humans – land dwellers – a favour by absorbing much of the heat, although this was at the cost of acidification and the creatures that lived in the sea.
Sh noted that $90 trillion would be invested in infrastructure around the world in coming decades, much of this into rapidly growing developing countries. “We will have to decide whether (this capital) will be made in technologies of the last century, or the technologies of this century. Is it going to be in renewables, energy efficiency, and resilient infrastructure. This is the scenario that we want.”