A UK-based climate policy group has put out an annual climate assessment “exclusively on observations rather than climate models” to serve as a counterpoint to those put out by the United Nations and government agencies that warn of unabated global warming.
The Global Warming Policy Foundation’s (GWPF) climate assessment, like the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), noted 2016 was likely the warmest year on record due to an incredibly strong El Niño warming event that boosted tropical ocean temperatures starting in 2015.
That’s about all the GWPF’s report has in common with the WMO’s assessment for 2016, which warns “the influence of human activities on the climate system has become more and more evident.”
“There is little doubt that we are living in a warm period,” said Ole Humlum, a physical geography professor at the University Centre in Norway and author of the GWPF report.
Humlum is a global warming skeptic who’s spent decades studying glaciers and climate. Humlum argues that while the world is warming, it’s well within the bounds of natural variability.
“However, there is also little doubt that current climate change is not abnormal and not outside the range of natural variations that might be expected,” Humlum said.
Humlum found that while 2016 was the warmest year on record, it was mostly due to the incredibly strong El Niño. The WMO, on the other hand, claims El Niño only contributed between 0.1 to 0.2 degrees Celsius to 2016’s record 1.1 degree Celsius anomaly.
He argues El Niño was the main driver behind record high temperatures last year because “global air temperatures were essentially back to the level of the years before the recent 2015–16 oceanographic El Niño episode.”
In general, the WMO’s report takes a more ominous tone in general when describing climatic conditions in 2016. WMO reported the “increase in global temperature is consistent with other changes in the climate system.”
“Globally averaged sea-surface temperatures were also the warmest on record; global sea levels continued to rise; and Arctic sea-ice extent was well below average for most of the year,” WMO reported.
“The year was marked by severe droughts that affected agricultural production and left people exposed to food insecurity in southern and eastern Africa and Central America,” WMO reported, also mentioning Hurricane Matthew, heavy flooding in Asia and coral reef bleaching.
Humlum counters that unseasonably high temperatures in the Arctic were driven by El Niño. Heat transported from the tropics to the poles. Both poles saw record-low sea ice levels, but that could also be driven by natural cycles.
“In the Arctic, a 5.3-year periodic variation is important, while for the Antarctic a cycle of about 4.5 years duration is important,” Humlum wrote. “Both these variations reached their minima simultaneously in 2016, which explains the recent minimum in global sea-ice extent.”
Humlum also noted how surface-based temperature datasets have diverged from satellite-based readings since 2003. Surface data shows about 1 degree Celsius more warming than satellites.
Many scientists, however, are worried about what 2017 holds. UK Met office scientists forecast atmospheric carbon dioxide could reach 410 parts per million by May, though those same experts expect 2017 to be cooler than 2016.
“Even without a strong El Niño in 2017, we are seeing other remarkable changes across the planet that are challenging the limits of our understanding of the climate system,” said David Carlson, director of the WMO-funded World Climate Research Program, according to InsideClimate News.
“We are now in truly uncharted territory,” Carlson said.
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