Soaring global temperature records are harbingers of worst disasters

27Aug 2016
Deo Mfugale
The Guardian
Soaring global temperature records are harbingers of worst disasters

IT is Wednesday evening and it is not one of those days when revelers crave for a cold beer; the weekend is at least two days away.

But Sam (not his real name) had had a long and busy day, running around to oversee the repair of his “third-had” car and at the same time rush back home from time to time, about a dozen kilometers away, to keep an eye on a mason who was giving his house a face-lift.

By four o’clock in the eveningthe repairs on the car were done. The house would take a couple of days more before it would be ready. Sam needed a drink to wash down the fatigue after a hard day’s work and liven up his spirits ready for another tough day tomorrow.

“Things have changed a lot,” he said, clutching a glass of beer with both hands as if he was afraid it might run away and spoil his evening. We had drained a beer each and we were on our second.

“This is not the weather of Morogoro town that I used to know. The days are unusually hot and the nights are colder than they used to be. One would think this place is slowly becoming a desert,” he added, a far-away look on his face.
The day had indeed been very hot, which was unusual for this small town which used to be cool in yesteryears, except for October.

Reports about increasingly warm months or warming years are becoming rather routine, sending unpleasant results across the globe. In Siberia, melting permafrostreleased anthraxthat had been frozen in a reindeer carcass for decades, starting a deadly outbreak. In Baghdad, soaring temperatures forced the government to shut down for days at a time. In Kuwait, thermometers hit a record 54C (129F).

A report by the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) the Earth is warming at a faster rate than expected and this year is on track to be the hottest year on record.

The average temperature in the first six months of 2016 was 1.3°C (2.4°F) warmer than the pre-industrial era in the late 19th century, according to NASA.Each month was record warm.

July was the hottest month the world has endured since records began in 1880, scientists have said, and brought a painful taste of the troubles people around the world may have to grapple with as global warming intensifies.

The July temperatures have given added urgency to calls for governments to deliver on commitments made in Paris last year to limit temperature risesto 1.5Cbeyond pre-industrial levels – a limit not far off the record set in July.

“Results compiled by NASA showed the month was 0.84C hotter than the 1951-1980 average for July, and 0.11C hotter than the previous record set in July 2015. July was hotter than any month globally since records began,” reads part of an article published recently US Today.

NASA’s records indicate July was about 1.3C warmer than the pre-industrial average, said David Karoly, a climate scientist from the University of Melbourne, who pointed out that Nasa’s baseline temperatures already included about 0.5C of warming in global temperatures. The latest data show July topped the chart with temperatures 0.84C warmer than the 1950-1980 global average.

On the other hand,the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration(NOAA) says global warming hit 1.46C in March this year andconfirmed that June was the 14th consecutive monthto break temperature records.

Various records indicate thatthe first half of 2016 has seen astonishing growth in global average temperatures, building on similar growth in 2015. This means that it is now all but certain thatthe earth is set for fifth successive warming year with average 1.21C temperature rises above 1850-1900 levels, a big increase on the 1.06C warming in 2015.

Practically every place on Earth was warmer than usual in April, making it the 12th consecutive month of record global temperatures. According to AFP the hot streak is the longest since records began 137 years ago and scientists say the man-made carbon dioxide increase is contributing to these record temperatures.

With the world already past the1C mark, avoiding the 1.5C limit altogether looks increasingly unlikely. Staying close to 1.5C in the long run now depends on the extent to which various emission reduction technologies can be used to suck carbon dioxide out of the air.

In fact the combined average temperature over global land and ocean surfaces for April 2016 was 1.98°F above the 20th century average, the highest temperature departure for April since global records began in 1880. It is also worth noting that 13 out of the 15 highest monthly temperature departures in the record have all occurred since February 2015 (record goes back to 1880). The other two were in February 1998 and January 2007.

April 2016 is the 12th consecutive month a monthly global temperature record has been broken, the longest such streak in NOAA’s 137 years of record keeping.The global year-to-date temperature is 2.05°F (1.14°C) above the 20th century average, and is warmer than this time in 2015, which finished as the hottest global year on record.

“Now scientists are working to explore emission pathways that could lead to lower levels of global warming,” says Carbon Brief, adding that recently scientists gathered in Geneva to flesh out the details of a new report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) on limiting warming to 1.5C, a goal set out in the Paris Agreementlast December.

The IPCC chair, Dr. Hoesung Lee, told the scientist authors that they shoulder a big responsibility in making sure the report clearly spelled out the practical steps needed to meet the 1.5C goal. Their findings will form the scientific basis of a global stocktaking in 2018, when the climate plans of 195 countries will be assessed at a UN meeting.

“One notion that runs through all this is feasibility. How feasible is it to limit warming to 1.5C? How feasible is it to develop the technologies that will get us there?…We must analyse policy measures in terms of feasibility," he said. Unfortunately, fixing climate change isn't as simple as fixing a broken pipe. The greenhouse gases countries have already emittedwill linger in the sky for centuries.

Many question whether meeting the 1.5C goal is still possible given the levels of carbon dioxide and other warming gases already in the atmosphere.

Jan Christoph Minx and Sabine Fuss from the Mercator Research Institute say the limit requires “close to zero” of net CO2 is released.

“Even in the most optimistic case, it will not take longer than five years to exhaust the remaining carbon budget at current rates of CO2 emissions,” they wrote in an article published in the Huffington Post.

Unusual weather events this year that scientists say are linked to climate change include an Arctic ‘heatwave’ in January, a Middle East heat spike of 54C and mass bleaching of coral reefs.

“World War III is well and truly underway. And we are losing,” wrote 350 founder Bill McKibben in the New Republic, calling for a vast government-led plan to ramp up clean energy capacity.“We can’t have a stable and prosperous global society without the basics of water, food, health, and stability.”

The consequences of rising temperatures came into sharp focus recently as scientistswarnedthat climate change is likely to bring more of the sort of extreme rainfall which has put large parts of Louisiana underwater. The disaster, now the worst to hit the US since Superstorm Sandy in 2012, has displaced thousands of people and, so far, notched up an estimated $30m in damages.

That's bad news for farmers, pastoralists, fishers, businessmen and everyone else whether they live in developing countries or the industrialised world

“With temperatures rising at this rate, it will soon be difficult to turn to irrigation in order to sustain crop production. In many parts of Tanzania, people have already stopped depending on rain-fed agriculture as rainfall has become unreliable over the years,” says Nicko Malik, a climate change expert at the Centre for Climate Change Studies of the University of Dar es Salaam.

He adds that soaring temperatures could also see the emergence of new plant and animal diseases and ultimately strain sources of livelihoods. “This calls for the need to scale up ecosystem adaptation methods which require inflicting minimum damage to the environment. Efficient use of resources would also help communities to cope with the climate change challenge,” he said.

The expert also recommended diversification of income generating activities so as to create safety nets when conditions get worse. “Depending on only one source of livelihood may prove disastrous under rising global temperatures,” he said.
For anyone with a stake in future human generations, 2016 offers a wake-up call:

Things have gotten a little too heated this year. If this heat can inspire us to see the big picture and get serious about stopping climate change, 2016 could actually turn out to be a pretty cool year.

Top Stories