The Arctic is experiencing its version of a heatwave: climate extremes to continue in 2017

The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) has confirmed that 2016 was the warmest year on record, and early indications suggest 2017 will be much the same.

In the WMO’s annual statement on the State of the Global Climate, the organisation claimed that provisional data suggests the year-on-year rise in global temperatures will continue into 2017, with the Arctic already experiencing the “Polar equivalent of a heatwave” at least three times this winter, and Antarctic sea ice being recorded at record low levels.

“We are seeing other remarkable changes across the planet that are challenging the limits of our understanding of the climate system. We are now in truly uncharted territory,” said World Climate Research programme director, David Carlson.

Image courtesy of WMO

According to the WMO, warming in 2016 was boosted by strong El Niño conditions, a phenomenon that occurs in the Pacific Ocean and has a global impact on weather patterns.

The El Niño event contributed to global sea levels rising, while at the same time the very warm ocean temperatures contributed to significant coral bleaching and death, which had an impact on marine food chains, ecosystems and fisheries.

Global sea ice extent also dropped more than 4 million square kilometres below average last November, an unprecedented anomaly for that month.

“This report confirms that the year 2016 was the warmest on record – a remarkable 1.1 °C above the pre-industrial period, which is 0.06 °C above the previous record set in 2015. This increase in global temperature is consistent with other changes occurring in the climate system,” said WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas.

“Globally averaged sea surface temperatures were also the warmest on record, global sea levels continued to rise, and Arctic sea-ice extent was well below average for most of the year.”

The WMO report also revealed that carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere reached the symbolic benchmark of 400 parts per million in 2015 – the latest year for which WMO global figures are available.

Having passed that symbolic benchmark, the level of carbon dioxide will not drop for many generations because of the long-lasting nature of CO2.

Taalas pointed out that the influence of human activities on the climate system continues to become more and more evident with many noteworthy extreme events occurring in 2016.

Severe droughts have brought food insecurity to millions in southern and eastern Africa and Central America, while Hurricane Matthew caused widespread suffering in Haiti as the first category 4 storm to make landfall since 1963. Heavy rains and floods also affected eastern and southern Asia.

“The entry into force of the Paris Agreement under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) on 4 November 2016 represents a historic landmark. It is vital that its implementation becomes a reality and that the agreement guides the global community in addressing climate change by curbing greenhouse gases, fostering climate resilience and mainstreaming climate adaptation into national development policies,” said Taalas.

“Continued investment in climate research and observations is vital if our scientific knowledge is to keep pace with the rapid rate of climate change,” added Taalas.

The WMO’s annual statement on the State of the Global Climate in 2016 will be presented to UN member states and climate experts at a high-level action event on Climate Change and the Sustainable Development Agenda in New York on 23 March, and is available to view here.

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