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Heatwaves are becoming more intense, extended and frequent as a result of climate change
by World Meteorological Organization (WMO)
6 Feb. 2019
World Meteorological Organization confirms past 4 years were warmest on record
In a clear sign of continuing long-term climate change associated with record atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases, 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018 have been confirmed as the four warmest years on record.
A consolidated analysis by the World Meteorological Organization of five leading international datasets showed that the global average surface temperature in 2018 was approximately 1.0° Celsius (with a margin of error of ±0.13°C) above the pre-industrial baseline (1850-1900). It ranks as the fourth warmest year on record.
The year 2016, which was influenced by a strong El-Niño event, remains the warmest year on record (1.2°C above preindustrial baseline). Global average temperatures in 2017 and 2015 were both 1.1°C above pre-industrial levels.
The latter two years are virtually indistinguishable because the difference is less than one hundredth of a degree, which is less than the statistical margin of error.
“The long-term temperature trend is far more important than the ranking of individual years, and that trend is an upward one, “ said WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas. “The 20 warmest years on record have been in the past 22 years. The degree of warming during the past four years has been exceptional, both on land and in the ocean.”
“Temperatures are only part of the story. Extreme and high impact weather affected many countries and millions of people, with devastating repercussions for economies and ecosystems in 2018,” he said.
“Many of the extreme weather events are consistent with what we expect from a changing climate. This is a reality we need to face up to. Greenhouse gas emission reduction and climate adaptation measures should be a top global priority,” said Mr Taalas.
The month of January has been marked by high impact weather in many parts of the world, including dangerous and extreme cold in North America, record heat and wildfires in Australia, high temperatures and rainfall in parts of South America, and heavy snowfall in the Alps and Himalayas.
Large parts of North America have been gripped by an influx of Arctic air. In southern Minnesota, the wind chill factor pushed readings down to minus 65°F (-53.9°C) on 30 January. The national low temperature record was measured at minus 56 °F (-48.9°C).
“The cold weather in the eastern United States certainly does not disprove climate change,” said WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas.
“In general, and at global level, there has been a decline in new cold temperature records as a result of global warming. But frigid temperatures and snow will continue to be part of our typical weather patterns in the northern hemisphere winter. We need to distinguish between short-term daily weather and long-term climate,“ he said.
“ The Arctic faced warming, which is twice the global average. A large fraction of the snow and ice in the region has melted. Those changes are affecting weather patterns outside the Arctic in the Northern Hemisphere. A part of the cold anomalies at lower latitudes could be linked to the dramatic changes in the Arctic. What happens at the poles does not stay at the poles but influences weather and climate conditions in lower latitudes where hundreds of millions of people live,” he said.
The eastern USA and parts of Canada are seeing record-breaking cold temperatures, but Alaska and large parts of the Arctic have been warmer than average.
In Canada, Ottawa airport received a record 97 cm of snow on 29 January, beating the 1999 record of 93 cm, according to Environment and Climate Change Canada.
Winter snowstorms and heavy snowfall are also not inconsistent with weather patterns under a changing climate.
Parts of the European Alps saw record snowfalls earlier in January. In Hochfilzen in the Tirol region of Austria, more than 451 centimetres (cm) of snow fell in the first 15 days of January, an event statistically only expected once a century. Other resorts in Tirol also received once-in-a-century snowfalls. Eastern Switzerland received twice as much snow as the long-term average.
The German weather service or Deutscher Wetterdienst, DWD, also issued a number of top-level snow and winter weather warnings. Climate projections show that winter precipitation in Germany is expected to be more intense, according to the German Weather Service, DWD. This will necessitate adaptation measures, for instance in regulations for buildings to withstand the weight of snow.
During the month, severe winter storms have hit the eastern Mediterranean and parts of the Middle East, with particularly severe impacts on vulnerable populations including refugees.
A cold front in the third week of January that swept south through the Arabian Peninsula, bringing a widespread dust storm from Egypt to Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, Iran and the United Arab Emirates, brought heavy rain and precipitation to Pakistan and northwest India.
The Indian Meteorological Department issued warnings on 21 January of heavy or very heavy rain and snow for Jammu and Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh, prompting warnings of avalanches amid an intense cold wave.
Australian heatwave and fires
Australia had its warmest January on record, according to its Bureau of Meteorology. The month saw a new series of heatwaves unprecedented in their scale and duration. Overall rainfall was 38% below average for January. Tasmania had its driest January on record.
Australia saw an unusual extended period of heatwaves which began in early December 2018 and continued into January 2019. The city of Adelaide reached a new record 46.6C on 24 January. Other records in South Australia included Whyalla 48.5, Caduna 48.6°C, Port Augusta 49.1°C, according to the Bureau of Meteorology.
Large fires fuelled by extremely dry and hot conditions have been burning since mid-January in central and southeast Tasmania, the southernmost state of Australia. As of January 28, the Tasmania Fire Service reported 44 fires.
News outlets reported smoke from some of the fires was visible as far away as New Zealand, and had a serious impact on air quality. The Tasmania Fire Service issued several emergency warnings to residents to relocate, as dangerous fire conditions and strong wind persist.
Over the past several weeks, the sea surface temperatures (SSTs) have warmed in the Tasman Sea with anomalies of +2.0C to 4.0C. Compared to the exceptional conditions at this time last year, SSTs are even warmer to the north and east of New Zealand and about equally as warm in the Tasman Sea, according to the New Zealand Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research.
Given that SSTs have been significantly warmer than average for several weeks, marine heatwave conditions are likely now occurring in parts of the Tasman Sea and New Zealand coastal waters, it said.
Australia had its hottest month of December on record and its hottest December day (27 December) on record. Marble Bar, in Western Australia, recorded a temperature of 49.3 °C on 27 December.
This followed an extreme heatwave that affected the tropical Queensland coast during late November 2018. Temperatures spiked again in mid-January, topping 45°C in many places in New South Wales and central Australia on 16 January.
Australia''s annual mean temperature has warmed by just over 1 °C since 1910, and summer has warmed by a similar amount. Australia''s annual warming trend is consistent with that observed for the globe, according to the Bureau of Meteorology.
Heatwaves are becoming more intense, extended and frequent as a result of climate change and this trend is expected to continue.
Elsewhere in the southern hemisphere, heat records tumbled in Chile. A weather station in the capital Santiago set a new record of 38.3°C on 26 January. In other parts of central Chile, temperatures topped 40°C, according to Meteo Chile.
Argentina has also been gripped by a heatwave, prompting a number of alerts about high temperatures.. Northeast Argentina, and the adjacent parts of Paraguay, Uruguay and Brazil have been hit with extensive flooding, with well above the long-term expected average rainfall.
On January 8, the Argentine city of Resistencia recorded 224mm rainfall. This is a new 24-hour rainfall record, much higher than the previous highest of 206mm, recorded in January 1994, according to the national meteorological service, SMN Argentina.
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Climate change is an existential threat to humanity
by Christiana Figueres and Greta Thunberg
DAVOS, Switzerland — Climate change is an existential threat to humanity and already a matter of life and death for many, but it is just one issue among many on the agenda at this year’s World Economic Forum. It should be the number one priority and should sit at the center of every conversation in Davos.
This week, the two of us — from different generations but united by the same concern for our planet — will jointly address delegates at the summit. Climate change action has never been so urgent, as we are quickly approaching tipping points of no return. In that context, we will talk about leadership, outrage and optimism. We believe these are inspirational times for transformational change.
In Paris in 2015, the world’s governments agreed to hold global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, while striving to keep the rise to 1.5 degrees by the second half of this century.
Then in October last year, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change provided the most granular and authoritative scientific assessment yet on the impacts of climate change. It showed that the difference between allowing an increase in average global temperatures of 2 degrees instead of 1.5 degrees would mean twice as many life-threatening heat waves and the loss of nearly all the world’s coral reefs. Even a 1.5-degree increase means that children growing up today will inherit a depleted and suffering planet.
The Paris climate accord was a historical achievement. It was one of the only times in world history that all countries united behind a single agenda — to help save humanity from the existential threat of climate change. But we knew that the first set of national efforts was going to be insufficient to stabilize the atmosphere.
That is why countries signing the agreement pledged to step up their efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions every five years. 2020 is the first test of those pledges. 2020 is also the year we must bend the curve of global emissions sharply down toward net zero by 2050 to give us the best chance of keeping warming to 1.5 degrees.
But worryingly, global greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise. In 2018, carbon dioxide emissions increased by more than 2 percent because countries keep on burning fossil fuels, and investors continue to fund them. At a time when our future is at stake, investments in cheap and reliable renewable energy have been slowing. New power plants are under construction today that will burn coal for decades, and energy companies are still searching for new oil and gas reserves.
Burning fossil fuels pollutes the air we breathe, contributing to the premature deaths of over 7 million people each year, according to the World Health Organization. Seven million people’s lives cut short every single year from dirty air. Seven million people missing their next birthday or school exam or grandchild’s graduation.
Air pollution kills more people than tobacco does. In places like Delhi, people who have never smoked a cigarette are dying of lung cancer. Polluted air kills three times as many people as AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria — combined.
But like climate change, air pollution is not a priority for many of the leaders gathered here in Davos. This is outrageous, especially because there are feasible solutions to the crisis that could save lives and create high-quality jobs.
Here’s a three-step “find and replace” exercise for leaders gathered in Davos to enact that will immediately clean up our air and help safeguard our climate:
Find coal, and replace it with renewable energy supported by storage. Find internal combustion engines, and replace them with zero-emissions mobility. Find crop burning (when farmers burn the stubble left over from the harvest to clear the ground quickly for new planting) and replace it with “no till” and “low till” technologies that enrich the soil instead of burning its nutrients.
Bold decisive action on coal, combustion engines and crop burning — across direct operations, investment portfolios and supply chains — requires real leadership. While these steps are being implemented in some places, it is not yet enough.
That’s why in nearly every continent, students have joined the school strike for climate, declaring that they want a different future, that they are unstoppable and that another world is possible.
Tens of thousands of students in Switzerland, Belgium, Germany, Australia and elsewhere have joined the strike. Their leadership is powerful. Transformational change is coming.
The two of us are from different generations, yet we stand together in Davos, hoping to be joined by more people of all ages and from all places. We are going to do everything we can to put an end to dirty fuels and dirty air so we can improve the prospects of people everywhere. The future is going to be tremendous.
* Christiana Figueres is a Costa Rican diplomat who spearheaded the 2015 Paris climate accord. Greta Thunberg is a 16-year-old Swedish student leading a global school strike for climate.
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