The head of the United Nations’ meteorological body warned the world was going through an “alarming rate” of global warming due to rising carbon dioxide emissions — but his statement ignored the 15-year “hiatus” in warming and 2016’s incredibly strong El Niño.
“The alarming rate of change we are now witnessing in our climate as a result of greenhouse gas emissions is unprecedented in modern records,” Petteri Taalas, secretary-general of the World Meteorological Organization, said March 21 in a statement on the release of the group’s’ new climate report.
WMO’s new “State of the Climate” report says the global average surface temperature was 0.76 degrees Celsius above the 1961-1990 average because of man-made global warming and the current El Niño — something Taalas glossed over in his remarks.
Taalas also neglected to mention the recent rise in global average temperature, spurred by El Niño, came after a 15-year or so “hiatus” in global warming. During this period, from 1998 to 2012, global surface temperatures rose at a much slower rate than in previous decades.
The “hiatus” in warming was recently reaffirmed in a study by a group of climate scientists. “[T]here is compelling evidence that there has been a temporary slowdown in observed global surface warming,” Ed Hawkins, a climate scientist at the University of Reading and co-author of the paper, wrote in a blog post on the new research.
Satellite-derived temperature records showed there was a more than two decade-long “hiatus” in global warming. Though, the recent El Niño caused temperatures in the mid troposphere to rise enough to end the “hiatus” in satellite datasets.
Taalas, however, wasn’t alone. David Carlson, the head of the WMO-sponsored World Climate Research Programme, claimed climate scientists have been shocked by how much temperatures spiked so far in 2016 — again, while a naturally-occurring El Niño warmed up the tropical Pacific.
“The startlingly high temperatures so far in 2016 have sent shockwaves around the climate science community,” Carlson said in a statement, echoing Taalas’ alarm.
Climate scientists were sounding the alarm earlier in March after National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) released new data showing the global average surface temperature for February was the highest ever recorded for that month, at 1.35 degrees Celsius warmer than the 1951 to 1980 average.
“We are in a kind of climate emergency now,” Stefan Rahmstorf, a climate scientist at the Potsdam Institute of Climate Impact Research, told The Sydney Morning Herald. “This is really quite stunning” and “it’s completely unprecedented.”
Ignored or brushed aside in the conversation is that February’s record high temperatures were ratcheted up by what’s been called the strongest El Niño in 18 years. El Niño is a naturally-occurring warming phase across the span of the Pacific Ocean along the equator. It occurs fairly regularly, about every two to seven years, and is often followed by a La Niña cooling phase.
Weather models say it’s likely the world is headed for a La Niña later in 2016, but it’s unclear how strong it will be. It’s further unclear if these amazed climate scientists will give equal measure to any sort of La Niña cooling period.
“Water temperatures just below the surface across the entire Pacific Ocean have turned net cool, and this massive, cold blob is now lurking below the surface waiting for its chance to turn up,” journalist Karen Braun wrote in a Reuters column. “The colder the anomaly becomes, the bigger the potential for La Niña becomes.”
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