Another day, another alarming report about how climate change is not a future problem but rather one that is having severe effects all over the planet now.
This time, the report comes from the World Meteorological Organization, an intergovernmental organization of 191 national meteorological services, such as the US National Weather Service, the UK Met Office and the Australian Bureau of Meteorology.
The past four years have the been the hottest on record, going back to 1850, the report says, with the 20 hottest years on the list all occurring in the past 22 years.
Global temperatures for January through October of this year have been 0.98 degrees Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit) above the pre-industrial average from 1850-1900 (the period before human-emitted greenhouse gases accumulated in the atmosphere to the point at which they began warming the planet).
2018 was not as hot as the previous three years, owing to the presence of La Niña, a cooling of the tropical waters in the Pacific Ocean that tends to bring down the global temperature; 2015 and 2016 had a strong El Niño that added to the globe’s warming trend.
The past five years have been 1.04 degrees Celsius above average, which means we are more than two-thirds of the way to the 1.5 degrees Celsius goal set by the Paris Climate Agreement in December 2017.
“These are more than just numbers,” World Meteorological Organization Deputy Secretary-General Elena Manaenkova said. “Every fraction of a degree of warming makes a difference to human health and access to food and fresh water, to the extinction of animals and plants, to the survival of coral reefs and marine life.”
Last month, a dire report from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the world’s scientific authority on climate change, said we could reach the 1.5 degree mark as soon as 2030 without immediate and unprecedented changes in our lifestyle and energy sources, and it warned of the worsening impacts from heat waves, droughts, sea level rise and food shortages as temperatures climb.
Thursday’s “State of the Climate Report in 2018” from the World Meteorological Organization once again shows that these impacts are here and will only get worse.
“We are not on track to meet climate change targets and rein in temperature increases,” Secretary-General Petteri Taalas said, a fact that was proved just Wednesday when a separate UN report on global climate emissions found that the world’s nations are woefully short of their goal to keep climate change below 2 degrees Celsius.
“Greenhouse gas concentrations are once again at record levels, and if the current trend continues, we may see temperature increases of 3 to 5 degrees Celsius by the end of the century. If we exploit all known fossil fuel resources, the temperature rise will be considerably higher,” he said.
Warming is worsening world hunger
Climate extremes are hitting the agriculture sector particularly hard, threatening to reverse gains in the fight to end malnutrition, the latest report said.
In 2017, the number of undernourished people rose to 821 million, ending a prolonged decline.
Severe droughts, aided by a strong El Niño in 2015-16 as well as numerous other extreme weather and climate events, contributed to the rise, according to the report.
Africa’s food security and malnutrition was the hardest-hit by climate events in 2017, affecting 59 million people in 24 countries; globally, 39 countries remain in need of external assistance for food.
Notable climate and weather events in 2018
2018 has featured several major weather and climate events, and although individual weather extremes are not solely caused by climate change, these types of events are expected to become more numerous, more widespread and more destructive as global temperatures rise.
Unprecedented heat and dry conditions in Europe, which saw temperatures in the 30s Celsius (90s Fahrenheit) all the way up to Scandinavia and the Arctic Circle, led to heavy crop losses in many countries.
Germany lost 43% of its maize and 21% of its potato crop, with production losses likely to be in the billions of euros, the report said.
South America also experienced crippling drought, with Argentina seeing the worst losses in agriculture, estimated at US $3.9 billion.
It has been an active year for tropical cyclones around the planet as well, with all four of the ocean basins in the Northern Hemisphere seeing more storms (70) than normal (53) for this point in the year.
The Northeast Pacific basin has seen record activity, tallying the highest “accumulated cyclone energy” (a measurement to express the destructive potential of a tropical cyclone that, when added together for all storms, gives a value for the overall year’s tropical activity) in its 29 named tropical systems in 2018.