GENEVA • For the third year in a row, global temperatures are set to be the highest on record, the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) said.
Across much of the globe, temperatures soared during the first half of this year, smashing heat records month after month. This was due in part to a powerful El Nino weather pattern in the Pacific that typically causes global temperatures to spike over and above the increases driven by climate change.
"The year 2016 remains on track to be the hottest year on record, with average global temperatures set to break even the records of 2015, according to data covering the first 11 months of the year," the WMO said in a statement this week.
"Temperatures spiked in the early months of 2016 because of a very strong El Nino event and remained well above the long-term average for the latter part of the year."
With only one month left in the year, the temperatures from January to November were the highest on record for this period, at 0.94 deg C above the 20th-century average of 14 deg C, according to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
This is not far from the aspirational goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 deg C agreed a year ago by nearly 200 nations under the Paris climate pact. That is a level that scientists say could limit the impact of extreme climate change, with poorer countries and low-lying island nations particularly vulnerable.
Climate scientists say the continued burning of fossil fuels is spewing greenhouse gases that trap heat in the atmosphere, making the planet warm up. The warmer the temperatures, the greater the risks of extreme weather, such as heatwaves, droughts, floods and rising sea levels as ice caps and glaciers melt.
Those risks can have direct consequences on livelihoods and economies, from damage to crops and food security, to threats to water supplies from droughts and extreme floods, to damage to coastal property and infrastructure from severe storms and rising sea levels.
The Asian region also wilted under the heat this year. Indonesia, much of Malaysia and parts of northern Australia recorded temperatures that were the highest on record from January to November, according to data from NOAA's National Centres for Environmental Information.
The average global sea surface temperature for the year to date was the highest in 137 years, the WMO said. Coral reefs have been badly damaged in some parts of the world, particularly Australia's Great Barrier Reef, affecting fisheries and tourism.
Scientists surveying the reef said late last month that it had suffered the worst coral die-off ever recorded after a jump in ocean temperatures around northern Queensland.
The WMO will issue consolidated figures on 2016 global temperatures early next year.
Temperatures in the Arctic have been particularly high. As a result, Arctic sea ice was exceptionally low. Antarctic ice extent was also the lowest on record last month, in contrast to the trend of recent years where the annual sea ice extent had expanded.
On Thursday, temperatures around the North Pole surged close to melting point as a freak blast of warm air blanketed an Arctic region usually deep frozen in mid-winter darkness, scientists said. Air temperatures at the North Pole were an estimated -4 deg C around midday with light snow, according to the Norwegian Meteorological Institute, against a more usual temperature close to -30 deg C.
Next year, though, world temperatures are likely to dip now that the El Nino in the Pacific has dissipated. "Next year is not likely to be a record but it will still be a very warm year," Professor Adam Scaife of the British Met Office told Reuters.
He said it would be wrong for anyone who doubts that climate change is caused by humans to interpret the expected dip next year as a sign of an end to global warming.
The Met Office projected 2017 is likely to be the third-warmest year since records began in the mid-19th century, behind 2016 and 2015.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, XINHUA