After months of devastating heat waves and wildfires around the world, 2018 is set to be the fourth hottest year on record, according to the UN’s specialist weather agency.
Figures released by the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) for the first 10 months reveal the planet was nearly 1C above the pre-industrial baseline.
The 20 warmest years ever measured have been in the past 22 years, and over the past five years warming has averaged more than 1C higher than historical levels.
Scientists are concerned the world is still nowhere near slowing down these soaring temperatures, as thermometers creep closer to the Paris climate agreement’s ambitious 1.5C target.
“These are more than just numbers,” said WMO deputy secretary-general Elena Manaenkova.
“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… Every extra bit matters.”
With an El Nino event predicted for the coming months, temperatures next year are likely to shoot up again as this natural boost to ocean warming combines with man-made climate change.
Professor Tim Osborn of the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit, which provides data used in the WMO analysis, said global warming triggered by greenhouse gas emissions was now very clear.
“The last four years were the four warmest years on record because, globally, humans have taken coal, oil and gas out of the ground, burnt them, and so emitted one and a half trillion tonnes of carbon dioxide to the Earth’s atmosphere,” he said.
This summer alarm bells rang across much of the world as soaring temperatures and extreme weather provided a picture of what the future could look like as a result of the changing climate.
Wildfires struck California and Greece, while a heatwave swept the northern hemisphere from Europe to Japan and east Africa and India experienced heavy flooding.
Scientists are now more confident than ever linking such catastrophic events to the rising global temperatures and their impact on global weather patterns.
“The knock-on effects for our regional climates and for severe weather events are beginning to emerge from the background variability of our weather,” said Professor Osborn.
The WMO’s provisional Statement on the State of the Climate in 2018 will add the evidence informing major UN climate negotiations taking place in Poland next week.
On Wednesday the UN’s environment arm warned that global commitments to cutting emissions must triple to hit the Paris agreement’s 2C target, and increase by five times to hit the stretch target of 1.5C warming.
The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned in October that hitting that aspirational target is still technically possible, but would require “unprecedented” changes to every aspect of human life.
“We are not on track to meet climate change targets and rein in temperature increases,” said WMO secretary-general Petteri Taalas.
“Greenhouse gas concentrations are once again at record levels and if the current trend continues we may see temperature increases 3-5C by the end of the century.
“If we exploit all known fossil fuel resources, the temperature rise will be considerably higher… It is worth repeating once again that we are the first generation to fully understand climate change and the last generation to be able to do something about it.”