Earth Posts Second Warmest February and Winter on Record

Our global temperature continued its upward trend last month with February 2017 marking not only the second warmest February on record but also closing out the planet’s second warmest meteorological winter.

According to the State of the Climate report by NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information, Earth’s combined average temperature for February – over both land and sea surfaces – was 55.66°F, which is 1.76°F above the 20th-century average. Only February 2016 was warmer.

This February also marked the 386th consecutive month with a global temperature above its long-term norm. That means the last time any month posted a below average reading was December 1984.

The three-month period of December, January, and February – meteorological winter in the northern hemisphere – was also unusually warm. NOAA reports that Earth’s average temperature for the season was 1.60°F above the 20th century average of 53.8°F. That makes it the second warmest winter on record, trailing only the 2015-16 season.

While heat dominated most of the planet this winter, some places were particularly warm, including much of North America and Asia. Here in the contiguous US, it was our sixth warmest winter on record.

Coming on the heels of a five-month long La Niña event, which had a modest cooling effect, these soaring temperatures are largely attributed to the long-term trend of human-caused climate change.

Global temperature records date back to 1880.

Winter 2016-17 was Earth’s 2nd warmest winter season on record. Credit: NOAA

January 2017: Earth’s Third Warmest January on Record

Our global temperature continued its upward trend last month with January 2017 marking the third warmest January ever recorded on this planet. Only the Januarys of 2016 and 2007 were warmer.

According to a report by NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information, Earth’s combined average temperature for the month – over both land and sea surfaces – was 55.18°F. That is 1.58°F above the 20th-century average.

January was also the 385th consecutive month with a global temperature above its long-term norm. That means the last time any month posted a below average reading was December 1984.

While heat dominated most of the planet this January, some places were particularly warm, including the eastern half of the United States and most of Canada. For the contiguous US as a whole, it was our 18th warmest January on NOAA’s books.

Coming on the heels of 2016 – Earth’s third consecutive warmest year on record – these soaring temperatures are largely attributed to the long-term trend of human-caused climate change. Whereas El Niño gave global temperatures a boost in the early part of last year, it dissipated in the spring. ENSO-neutral conditions prevailed in January.

Global temperature records date back to 1880.

January 2017 was Earth’s 3rd warmest January on record. Credit: NOAA

2016: Earth’s Third Consecutive Warmest Year on Record

It’s official, 2016 was the warmest year ever recorded on this planet.

According to a report by NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information, Earth’s combined average temperature for the year – over both land and sea surfaces – was 58.69°F. That is a staggering 1.69°F above the 20th-century average and surpasses the previous annual record that was set just last year. That makes 2016 the third year in a row to break a global temperature record.

As remarkable as this feat is, it does not come as much of a surprise. During the year, eight new global monthly temperature records were set.

A strong El Niño event influenced this record warmth, but it does not tell the whole story as it dissipated in June and was replaced by its cooler counterpart, La Niña, in the autumn. Therefore, the long-term trend of human-caused climate change was also a key factor. NOAA reports that 2016 marked the 40th consecutive year that our annual global temperature was above its long-term norm.

While heat dominated the planet last year, some places were particularly warm. Here in the contiguous US, it was our second warmest year on record.

Looking at the bigger picture, all sixteen years of this century rank among the seventeen warmest ever recorded and five were record breakers (2005, 2010, 2014, 2015, and 2016). As greenhouse gases – the main drivers of global warming – continue to spew into the atmosphere, temperatures will continue to rise and records will likely continue to fall. Global temperature records date back to 1880.

2016 was Earth’s third consecutive warmest year on record. Credit: NOAA

November 2016: Fifth Warmest November on Record for Planet Earth and Second Warmest Autumn

Our global temperature continued its upward trend last month with November 2016 marking not only the fifth warmest November on record but also closing out the second warmest meteorological autumn ever recorded for the entire planet.

According to a report by NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information, Earth’s combined average temperature for November – over both land and sea surfaces – was 56.51°F. That is 1.31°F above the 20th-century average and only 0.41°F shy of the record that was set last year.

The three-month period of September, October, and November – known as the meteorological autumn in the northern hemisphere – was also one for the record books. With the season posting an average temperature that was 1.39°F above the 20th century average, it was the Earth’s second warmest September to November period on record.

While heat dominated most of the planet these past three months, some places were particularly warm. Here in the contiguous US, the autumn of 2016 was our warmest on record. Nearly every state experienced above average temperatures and eight were record warm – Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, New Mexico, Texas, and Wisconsin.

These soaring temperatures are attributed to the long-term trend of human-caused climate change. Whereas El Niño gave global temperatures a boost earlier in the year, it dissipated in June. In fact, its cooler counterpart, La Niña, prevailed across the tropical Pacific Ocean this November.

Year to date, the first eleven months of 2016 were the warmest of any year on record. It is now almost certain that 2016 will surpass 2015 as the Earth’s warmest year ever recorded. Global temperature records date back to 1880.

Credit: NOAA

Credit: NOAA

Climate Change Indicator: The Keeling Curve

Increasing levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) is one of the main causes of global warming. The steady rise of this potent greenhouse gas is clearly visible on the Keeling Curve, a leading indicator of human-caused climate change.

Charles David Keeling, a researcher at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, set up a CO2 monitoring site high atop Mauna Loa on the Big Island of Hawaii in 1958. This remote spot in the middle of the Pacific Ocean is well removed from the localized influences of both carbon sources (factories) and sinks (forests) that could skew the data. According to NOAA, it is the world’s oldest continuous carbon dioxide monitoring station.

When the data recorded at the site is shown graphically, it resembles a “saw-toothed” curve. This is because CO2 levels go up and down throughout the year with the life cycles of plants. Since most of the world’s landmass and vegetation are in the northern hemisphere, CO2 levels start to go down in spring when plants draw in the gas during the process of photosynthesis. Then, after reaching a minimum in the autumn, CO2 levels begin to go back up as plants die off and decay.

The curve’s long-term trend, however, has been definitively upward. Human activities, such as burning fossil fuels, have been releasing more CO2 into the atmosphere than natural carbon sinks (plants and oceans) can take out.

When first established in 1958, the CO2 level at Mauna Loa was 315ppm (parts per million). This autumn, it was more than 400ppm. To put this rapidly increasing number into perspective, consider that ice-core research shows that pre-industrial levels of carbon dioxide held steady around 280ppm from about 1000-1750 AD.

The Keeling Curve. Credit: Scripps and NOAA

The Keeling Curve. Credit: Scripps and NOAA

Outcomes of the UN Climate Change Conference in Marrakesh

The UN Climate Change Conference in Marrakesh, known as COP 22, concluded on Saturday. Building on the momentum of the 2015 Paris Agreement, it began the process of putting the details of that historic accord into action.

Years in the making, the Paris Agreement set the target of holding global warming to 2°C (3.6°F) above pre-industrial levels. To achieve this goal, nearly 200 countries submitted individual voluntary emissions reduction plans known as nationally determined contributions (NDCs). Based on the current collection of NDCs, which vary widely in ambition, the agreement will only cut greenhouse gas emissions by about half of what is necessary to reach the 2°C (3.6°F) goal. It does, however, legally obligate countries to publically report how much emissions they have actually eliminated and to reassess their plans every five years.

One of the main goals of the Marrakesh meeting was to create a standardized rulebook to monitor and report on these independent undertakings. But after two weeks of negotiations and to the dismay of those hoping for quicker action, the diplomats agreed on 2018 as the deadline for setting up this vital framework. The finance of climate adaptation – the touchy subject of who will pay for what in terms of helping poor nations adapt to climate change – was also punted two years down the road. However, they did issue the Marrakech Action Proclamation re-affirming their commitment to the Paris Agreement and their promises to combat climate change.

Although ratified in record time, the Paris Agreement is a fragile accord. All commitments are voluntary and vulnerable to the political will of individual governments – both now and in the future. Moreover, there are no penalties for those who do not live up to their promises. This is why the election of Mr. Trump as the next US President sent shockwaves through the meeting in Morocco.

The President-elect has famously called climate change a “hoax” and said he would withdraw the US from the Paris Agreement. While only time will tell if Mr. Trump will follow through on his rhetoric of climate change denial, the rest of the world seems willing to move forward with plans to tackle this critical issue.

Outside of the formal COP meetings, the positive spirit of the Paris Agreement pushed forward. Four countries – Canada, Germany, Mexico and the US – announced their climate action plans through 2050. With one of the more aggressive proposals, Germany aims to essentially stop using fossil fuels and reduce its emissions between 80% and 95% by mid-century. Furthermore, a group of forty-eight developing nations, members of the Climate Vulnerable Forum, declared their intention to switch to 100% renewable energy between 2030 and 2050.

The Marrakech meeting was the 22nd session of the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The next conference (COP 23) will take place in November 2017 in Bonn, Germany.

Credit: UN

Credit: UN

October 2016: Third Warmest October on Record for Planet Earth

Our global temperature continued its upward trend last month with October 2016 tying 2003 as the third warmest October ever recorded on this planet.

According to a report by NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information, Earth’s combined average temperature for the month – over both land and sea surfaces – was 58.4°F. That is 1.31°F above the 20th-century average and only 0.47°F shy of the record that was set last year.

While heat dominated most of the planet this October, some places were particularly warm, including parts of Canada and Greenland. Here in the contiguous US, it was our third warmest October on record and warmest since 1963.

These soaring global temperatures are attributed to the long-term trend of human-caused climate change. Whereas El Niño gave temperatures a boost earlier in the year, it dissipated in June. In fact, its cooler counterpart, La Niña,  prevailed in October.

Year to date, the first ten months of 2016 were the warmest of any year on record. This significantly increases the likelihood that 2016 will surpass 2015 as the Earth’s warmest year ever recorded. Global temperature records date back to 1880.

October 2016 was Earth's third warmest October on record. Credit: NOAA

October 2016 was Earth’s third warmest October on record. Credit: NOAA

The UN Climate Change Conference in Marrakesh is Underway

COP 22, the UN Climate Change Conference in Marrakesh, Morocco, is underway. The goal of this massive meeting is to turn the ideas outlined in the 2015 Paris Agreement into action.

Years in the making, the Paris Agreement set the target of holding global warming to 2°C (3.6°F) above pre-industrial levels. To achieve this goal, nearly 200 countries submitted individual voluntary emissions reduction plans known as nationally determined contributions (NDCs).

Moving into the next phase of this historic agreement, the diplomats attending the Marrakesh meeting will hash out the framework needed to monitor and report on these independent undertakings. The ideal system would involve an independent panel with consistent standards that monitors countries to see if they are following through on their greenhouse gas reduction pledges. This type of reporting, it is believed, would encourage accountability as it applies the power of public scrutiny. Some countries, however, are expected to argue for a self-monitoring system. China and India, two of the world’s largest polluters, are likely to push for this less public path.

Another big topic at the Marrakesh meeting will be money. During the Paris talks last year, the wealthy nations of the world said they would create a fund and spend $100 billion a year to help poor nations adapt to climate change. Negotiators will have to work out the details of where and how this money be spent.

Although ratified in record time, the Paris Agreement is still a fragile accord. All commitments are voluntary and vulnerable to the political will of each individual government. Moreover, there are no penalties for those who do not live up to their promises.

That said, expectations going into Marrakesh are high as governments around the world have shown a willingness to act on climate change outside the parameters of the Paris Agreement. Last month, global leaders agreed to reduce the use of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), a potent greenhouse gas commonly used as a coolant in refrigerators and air-conditioners. They also agreed to make airplanes more fuel-efficient and reduce the overall carbon footprint of air travel.

The Marrakesh conference runs through November 18.

Credit: UN

Credit: UN

September 2016: Second Warmest September on Record for Planet Earth

Temperatures around the globe soared last month. In fact, September 2016 was the second warmest September ever recorded for the entire planet.

According to a report by NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information, Earth’s combined average temperature for the month – over both land and sea surfaces – was 60.6°F. That is 1.60°F above the 20th-century average and only 0.07°F shy the record that was set last year.

This second place finish effectively ends a 16-month stretch of record warm global monthly temperatures – the longest such streak on NOAA’s books.

While heat dominated most of the planet this September, some places were particularly warm. Several countries in Europe posted readings that were among their top five warmest for the month. These included Germany, the UK, France, Holland, and Austria. Here in the contiguous US, it was our ninth warmest September on record.

These soaring temperatures are attributed to the long-term trend of human-caused climate change. Whereas El Niño gave global temperatures a boost earlier in the year, it dissipated in June. ENSO-neutral conditions, according to NOAA, prevailed in September.

Year to date, the first nine months of 2016 were the warmest of any year on record. This significantly increases the likelihood that 2016 will surpass 2015 as the Earth’s warmest year ever recorded. Global temperature records date back to 1880.

September 2016 was the second warmest September on record for the entire planet. Credit: NOAA

September 2016 was the second warmest September on record for the entire planet. Credit: NOAA

Paris Climate Change Agreement Enters into Force

The Paris Climate Agreement is signed, sealed, and delivered. Approved domestically by the requisite number of signatories with unusual speed, it will enter into force in 30 days.

The historic deal negotiated at the UN Climate Change Conference in Paris last December required ratification by 55 countries, representing 55% of global greenhouse gas emissions before it could go into effect. This double threshold was passed this week when the EU, Canada, and a number of smaller states officially ratified the agreement. To date, according to the UN, 72 countries representing more than 56% of emissions have signed on to the deal including the US, China, and India – the world’s three largest carbon polluters.

The aim of this international agreement is to limit global warming to 2°C (3.6°F) above pre-industrial levels. To achieve this goal, it employs a mix of voluntary and legally binding actions. While every country submitted their own emissions reduction plan known as nationally determined contributions (NDCs), there was no requirement quantifying the amount of greenhouse gases they had to cut or how it had to be done. Additionally, there are no penalties for those who do not live up to their promises. Instead, the accord depends heavily on global peer pressure and the hope that no country wants to be seen as a slacker in the eyes of the world.

Based on the current collection of national plans, which vary widely in ambition, this agreement will only cut greenhouse gas emissions by about half of what is necessary to reach the 2°C (3.6°F) goal. The accord, however, does legally obligate countries to publically report how much emissions they have actually eliminated and to reassess their plans every five years.

While flawed, the Paris Accord is the world’s first truly global climate agreement. It marks the culmination of a very long, and often tumultuous, international political process that began at the Rio Earth Summit 24 years ago. That said, the hard part still lies ahead.

Individual nations need to stay the course and implement the commitments in their NDCs. The framework needed to monitor and report on these independent undertakings will be negotiated at the next UN Climate Change Conference (COP22) in Marrakesh, Morocco this November. The Paris Agreement will come into force on November 4th.

Paris Climate Change Agreement has met the double threshold required to enter into force. Credit: UN

The Paris Climate Change Agreement met the double threshold required to enter into force on October 5, 2016. Credit: UN