UK Met Office estimates 2016 will be at least as hot as 2015, which would mean the three hottest years ever had occurred in a row
2016 is set to be the warmest year ever recorded, according to a forecast issued by the UK Met Office on Thursday.
Climate change and the peaking of the El Niño weather phenomenon are expected to drive the global average temperature next year above the record now certain to be set for 2015, which itself beat a new record set in 2014.
The forecast comes just five days after 195 nations agreed a historic deal to fight global warming at a UN summit in Paris by keeping the world’s temperature rise under 2C, with an ambition to restrict the rise to 1.5C.
The Met Office forecast indicates the global average temperature in 2016 will be 1.14C above pre-industrial temperatures, showing how challenging it will be to meet the 1.5C goal. The Met Office said there was just a 5% chance the global average temperature in 2016 would be below that in 2015.
“The vast majority of the warming is global warming, but the icing on the cake is the big El Niño event,” said Prof Adam Scaife, head of monthly to decadal prediction at the Met Office.
El Niño is a natural cycle of warming in the Pacific Ocean which has a global impact on weather. The current episode is the biggest since 1998 and is peaking now, but the global temperature effects take time to spread around the globe. “We expect the peak warming from El Niño in the 2016 figures,” said Scaife.
Rising temperatures driven by global warming combined with natural variability leads to a greater chance of extreme weather events, he said: “When variability adds to the underlying warming, it can give impacts that have never been seen before.”
Heatwaves have scorched China, Russia, Australia, the Middle East and parts of South America in the last two years. The recent floods in the northwest of England are estimated to have been made 40% more likely by climate change.
Despite rising greenhouse gas emissions trapping ever more heat on Earth, the last decade has seen relatively slow warming of air temperatures, dubbed a “pause” in climate change by some.
In fact, global warming had not paused at all. Instead, natural climate cycles led to more of the trapped heat being stored in the oceans. Now, according to the Met Office, all the signs are that the period of slower rises in air temperatures is over and the rate of global warming will accelerate fast in coming years. 2014 was the first year the world passed 1C of warming above pre-industrial levels.
The temperature trend caused by climate change will continue to be upwards unless carbon emissions begin to fall. However, the Met Office does not expect the run of back-to-back records from 2014-16 to continue indefinitely, as El Niño is expected to wane during 2016.
“But the current situation shows how global warming can combine with smaller, natural fluctuations to push our climate to levels of warmth which are unprecedented in the data records,” said a Met Office statement.
“This is yet more evidence that the world is warming fast. We’ll see far more savage storms and floods in places like Cumbria and Chennai if governments do not act to cut carbon pollution,” said Simon Bullock at Friends of the Earth.
“The Paris agreement was crystal-clear that urgent measures are needed now, yet David Cameron’s government has reacted by stamping on the solar industry, while championing fracking. This morally bankrupt response is the exact opposite of what is needed.”
Bob Ward, policy director at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change at the London School of Economics, said: “Global mean surface temperature continues to rise. This means governments must act strongly and urgently to cut emissions of greenhouse gases if there is to be any chance of keeping future warming to well below 2C, as laid out in the Paris agreement.”
He added: “This projection is another fatal blow to claims by climate change ‘sceptics’ that global warming has stopped or stalled.”
The Met Office forecast for 2016 predicts a global average temperature of 1.14C above pre-industrial levels, with a 95% likelihood of being between 1.02C and 1.26C. 2015 is expected to be about 1C warmer.