Earth set for warmest years on record — again

Heating up: The world’s 10 warmest years have all occurred within the last two decades.

The Met Office has warned that 2015 and 2016 could each break the record for the hottest average temperatures across the globe. Something must be done, say scientists. But what?

‘Everything is in peril right now,’ said Paul Simoni earlier this summer, while working on his family’s farm in California. He had harvested the corn for the summer, but warned that if his tomato and alfalfa crops didn’t get water soon, they would be wiped out. It’s a story shared by farmers across the US state, which has suffered from a crippling drought for four years.

They might soon get a reprieve. Scientists have predicted that shifts in the global climate could finally bring some much-needed water to the region. But the changes are less welcome elsewhere: 2015, the Met Office has predicted, will be the hottest year since records began; and 2016 could follow suit.

‘We will look back on this period as an important turning point,’ said one scientist. ‘That is why we are emphasising it.’

The science is complex, prediction difficult. Natural ocean cycles are shifting to cause a rise in temperatures, which is then exacerbated by man-made greenhouse gases. Although a warming process in the Pacific known as El Nino is likely to raise overall temperatures, a shift in the North Atlantic could mean cooler, drier summers in Europe.

2014 was also a record-breaking year, and scientists warn that the changes are happening fast. ‘This isn’t a fluke,’ stressed Prof Rowan Sutton from the University of Reading. He explained that if man-made emissions continue unabated, global warming will be far worse than any natural weather fluctuations.

The latest warning comes as world leaders attempt to negotiate plans for a global climate deal ahead of a crucial UN summit in Paris this December. US President Barack Obama has said that he is hoping for the most ‘ambitious’ deal yet, but the UN secretary general has complained that the talks are moving at a ‘snail’s pace’.

Problem solving

‘How many more warnings do we need?’ ask environmental activists. The consequences of climate change are already happening — just look at the situation in California. The solution has been obvious for years, but we have been ignoring it: to save our planet, we must drastically cut our carbon emissions before it’s too late.

But it is a complicated issue, others insist. The developed world is built on fossil fuels, and the system cannot be changed overnight. Instead, climate author Tim Flannery argues that we should be thinking outside the box: how can we ‘capture’ the carbon dioxide (CO2) which is already in the air? The answer may lie in CO2 absorbent seaweed farms, emerging technology which transforms the gas into plastic, or greener building materials such as carbon-negative cement. There are lots of solutions — we just need to be creative enough to find them.

You Decide

  1. Have you already noticed the effects of climate change?
  2. Can the world ever stop using fossil fuels?

Activities

  1. Make a poster which advises someone how to live a ‘greener’ life.
  2. Find three examples of how previous El Nino events have affected the world’s climate. If you’re unsure where to begin, try looking into the winter of 1997-1998.

Some People Say...

“Climate change is the greatest risk humanity faces today.”

What do you think?

Q & A

If Europe’s getting cooler, why should the UK worry?
The obvious answer is that we should still care about the effects of climate change on the people who do live in regions with rising temperatures and more extreme weather. But there’s another, more complex reason: if climate change affects agriculture in other countries, the world’s food production system could be severely damaged. In this inter-connected world, everyone would feel its effects.
Is there anything I can do?
There are lots of things that everyone can do to help reduce their own carbon emissions, such as using public transport and making sure appliances are switched off when they are not in use. If you would like to get involved in campaigning, try writing a letter your local MP to ask about their position on climate change.

Word Watch

Drought
Global warming didn’t cause the drought in California, which has always had volatile weather systems. But scientists do think that man-made climate change made it worse, by causing higher temperatures and drier conditions.
Ocean cycles
Ocean surfaces constantly evaporate in hot regions, leading to rain in cooler areas. This cycle is key to the world’s climate. The oceans naturally move through warmer and cooler cycles over several years, the effects of which can impact global temperatures.
El Nino
Every few years, conditions around the equator in the Pacific cause a shift in the ocean’s normal weather cycle. The more extreme effects of the process can include droughts, floods and rising temperatures.
Seaweed farms
Kelp, a form of seaweed, absorbs vast amounts of CO2. One study suggests that covering 9% of the world’s oceans with seaweed farms could absorb all of humanity’s carbon emissions.
Carbon-negative cement
Several companies are currently developing cement made without emitting carbon. The process uses magnesium carbonates, which absorb CO2, making it ‘carbon negative’.

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