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No standstill in global warming: 2014 will be world's hottest year ever

21st century sees 14 of the 15 hottest years on record

Steve Connor
Wednesday 03 December 2014 17:01 GMT
2014 is set to be one of the warmest British years on record
2014 is set to be one of the warmest British years on record (BEN STANSALL/AFP/Getty Images)

This year is set to be the hottest on record both in Britain and around the world, with climate scientists pointing to rising levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide as the most likely cause.

Records for January to October show that the global average air temperature over land and sea surface was about 0.57C above the average of 14C for the period between 1961 to 1990, and 0.09C above the average for the past 10 years, according to the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO).

The global figures suggest that 2014 is set to become the hottest ever, beating the previous records of 2010, 2005 and 1998. Much of the extra warmth is being detected in the oceans, both at the surface and at deeper depths where the bulk of the extra heat is ending up.

Meanwhile the central England temperature record, which dates back to 1659 and is the longest set of instrumental records in the world, shows that 2014 is also set to be one of the warmest British years on record, according to the Met Office.

Every month of this year so far, except August, has seen above-average temperatures in the UK, and while no single month has set a new temperature record, the year as a whole has been consistently and unusually warm, the Met Office said.

Climate researchers will use the latest data to puncture the myth that global warming has stalled and will urge negotiators at the climate change negotiations in the Peruvian capital Lima to take note of what they see as incontrovertible evidence that the world is on path towards dangerous global warming.

“The provisional information for 2014 means that 14 out of the 15 warmest years on record have all occurred in the 21st Century. There is no standstill in global warming,” said Michel Jarraud, secretary general of the WMO.

“What we saw in 2014 is consistent with what we expect from a changing climate. Record-breaking heat combined with torrential rainfall and floods destroyed livelihoods and ruined lives,” Dr Jarraud said.

“What is particularly unusual and alarming this year are the high temperatures of vast areas of the ocean surface, including the northern hemisphere. Record-high greenhouse gas emissions and associated atmospheric concentrations are committing the planet to a much more uncertain and inhospitable future,” he said.

Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the UN convention on climate change, said: “Our climate is changing and every year the risks of extreme weather events and impacts on humanity rise.”

The global mean temperatures for January to October are based on worldwide instrument readings compiled by the Met Office and the University of East Anglia (UEA), known as the HadCRUT4 dataset. The Met Office said that the final value for the year will be very close to its central estimate of 0.57C for 2014, a forecast it made at the end of last year.

“Spatially, 2014 has so far been warmer than the 1961 to 1990 average almost everywhere, the main exception being central and eastern parts of North America. For Europe, many countries in northern and eastern parts will likely have had near-record warm years,” said Phil Jones, director of UEA’s Climatic Research Unit.

Average air temperatures taken over land for January to October were about 0.86C above the long-term average between 1961 and 1990, which is so far about fourth or fifth warmest on record for the same period.

However, the global sea-surface temperatures were the highest on record, at about 0.45C above the long-term average. Also, the ocean heat estimated at depths of 700 metres and 2000 metres for January to June were also the highest recorded, according to the WMO.

“Around 93 per cent of the excess energy trapped in the atmosphere by greenhouse gases from fossil fuels and the other human activities ends up in the oceans. Therefore, the heat content of the oceans is key to understanding the climate system,” the WMO said.

The Met Office emphasised that one warm year has to be looked at in the context of longer-term trends of several decades. However, new techniques allow scientists at the Met Office to gauge the role of human activity in the changes of breaking temperature records, according to Peter Stott, head of climate attribution at the Met Office.

“Our research shows current global average temperatures are highly unlikely in a world without human influence on the climate. Human influence has also made breaking the current UK temperature record about 10 times more likely,” Dr Stott said.

Colin Morice, a climate monitoring scientist at the Met Office, said: “Record or near-record years are interesting, but the ranking of individual years should be treated with some caution because of the uncertainties in the data are larger than the differences between the top-ranked years. We can say this year will add to the set of near-record temperatures we have seen over the last decade.”

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