Earth Just Experienced the Hottest Five Years on Record

  • WMO report underlines long-term warming caused by pollution
  • Extreme weather events cost countries billions of dollars

A Brief History of Global Warming

Earth experienced its hottest half-decade on record between 2011 and 2015 and the floods, droughts and storms unleashed by rising temperatures are likely only a prelude to new weather extremes, the World Meteorological Organization said.

As delegates from almost 200 countries gather in Marrakesh, Morocco this week for global talks on climate change, the WMO report published on Tuesday shows the world has already warmed by 1 degree Celsius (1.8 Fahrenheit) compared to pre-industrial levels.

“We just had the hottest five-year period on record, with 2015 claiming the title of hottest individual year,” WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas said in a statement. “Even that record is likely to be beaten in 2016.”

The WMO’s measurements underline the difficultly countries face in mitigating runaway global warming. While they agreed in December in Paris to keep temperatures increases well below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) the new data show countries left themselves a narrow margin of error as greenhouse gases continue to accumulate in the atmosphere.

Global Five Year Average Temperature Anomolies

Source: Met Office Hadley Center and Climatic Research Unit, University of East Anglia

The warming trend may have been responsible for a drought in East Africa between 2010 and 2012 which led to about 258,000 deaths, as well as flooding in southeast Asia in 2011 that cost more than $40 billion, the report said. Superstorm Sandy in 2012 caused $67 billion in damage to the U.S. and almost 8,000 people were killed by Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines.

Rising ocean temperatures and ice sheets melting have been causing sea levels to rise, the WMO said. Average sea-surface temperatures in 2015 rose to a record, feeding into ocean expansions triggered by warming water, it said. 

Areas covered by Arctic sea ice over the five-year period was 28 percent below the average of the previous 29 years, the WMO reported. Sheets of white ice at the Earth’s poles have historically had a cooling effect by reflecting solar rays back into the atmosphere.

Extreme Weather

Source: World Meteorological Organization

Despite the Paris Agreement signed in December, the world remains on track for 3.4 degrees Celsius of warming, according to a United Nations report last week. Countries must identify how they can make further cuts of at least 12 gigatons of carbon dioxide equivalent, which is the same as taking all of Europe’s cars off the roads for 12 years, it said.

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