2018 is on track to be the fourth hottest year on record, according to the World Meteorological Organization.
The average global temperature for the period between January and October was close to 1°C above the pre-industrial baseline (1850-1900), the WHO says. The figures are based on five independently maintained global temperature data sets.
In its State of the Global Climate report, released Nov. 29, the WMO goes on to state that the 20 warmest years on record have all occurred in the past 22 years. The hottest four have all come in the past four years.
“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,” said WMO Deputy Secretary-General Elena Manaenkova. “It makes a difference to economic productivity, food security, and to the resilience of our infrastructure and cities. It makes a difference to the speed of glacier melt and water supplies, and the future of low-lying islands and coastal communities. Every extra bit matters.”
The report says that a weak La Niña event early in 2018 contributed to the slight cooling relative to 2017. La Niña is a weather phenomenon associated with lower temperatures, while El Niño is associated with higher temperatures. The WMO says there is a high chance of a weak El Niño forming within the next three months, meaning 2019 is likely to be warmer than 2018.
“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 3-5°C 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,” said Taalas.
The WMO’s report follows a comprehensive government study from a group of U.S. climate scientists that found climate change is a serious threat to the U.S. economy. President Donald Trump, who has often disregarded researchers’ dire climate warnings despite mounting evidence, later dismissed the findings of his own scientists, saying “I don’t believe it.”