2015 looks set to be warmest year on record

Children cool down in a fountain outside of Columbus Shopping centre in Vienna.
Children cool down in a fountain outside of Columbus Shopping centre in Vienna.PHOTO: AFP

The latest vital signs of the planet are not good, with the United Nations' weather agency warning that 2015 is making history for the wrong reasons.

This year is likely to be the warmest year on record, with average temperatures hitting for the first time the important milestone of 1 deg C above pre-industrial levels, according to a report by the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO).

The years 2011 to 2015 are also the warmest five-year period on historical record, dating back to 1880.

A preliminary estimate based on data from January to October showed that the global average surface temperature for 2015 was around 0.73 deg C above the 1961-1990 average of 14 deg C and approximately 1 deg C above the pre-industrial 1880 to 1899 period.

The WMO attributed the rise in global temperatures to a combination of a strong El Nino and human-induced global warming.

El Nino is a naturally occurring climate phenomenon that sees changes in the climate of the Pacific Ocean, during which the ocean surface warms up and results in disruptive weather patterns.

The report, released on Nov 25, was published unusually early as the WMO usually waits to have a full year's worth of data before doing so.

The organisation drew on just 10 months of data this year in order to publish the report in time for the UN climate talks which began in Paris last Monday.

It wanted the findings to "inform negotiators" at the talks.

Mr Deke Arndt, chief climate monitor of the United States' National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, told the Associated Press news agency that the impending record was "certain", and that "something game-changing massive would have to happen for it not to be a record".

WMO director-general Michel Jarraud struck an urgent tone, saying at a news conference just days before the climate talks began that it was still possible for negotiators to agree to steps to keep the temperature rise within 2 deg C over pre-industrial times. This was a target set in 2010, with 2 deg C seen as the threshold beyond which climate change risks would become unacceptably high.

"Time is really not on our side. We have the knowledge and the tools to act. We have a choice. Future generations will not," he warned, according to Agence France-Presse.

The WMO report chronicled an atlas of extreme weather, citing a major heatwave in India in May and June with temperatures exceeding 45 deg C; unusually heavy rainfall and flooding in South America and parts of Africa such as Malawi, Zimbabwe and Mozambique; and long drought periods in Central and North America leading to a record-breaking number of wildfires.

Regionally, Bloomberg news agency reported last Tuesday that Europe looks set to experience its mildest winter yet, with forecasters predicting that this year will be the region's warmest year on record.

South America and Asia are also likely to have their hottest years on record, the WMO forecast, with China recording its warmest January- to-October period this year.

In Singapore, the Meteorological Service Singapore (MSS) said that while global temperatures rose, 2015 is not Singapore's hottest year. That distinction goes jointly to the years 1997 and 1998, when the annual average temperature was 28.3 deg C, said a spokesman.

In an e-mail statement, the MSS also said that Singapore did not experience any dry spells this year, unlike last year's prolonged dry spell between January and February.

The stakes for this year's climate talks, which close on Friday, have been raised even higher with the WMO warning that the earth will continue to heat up next year.

This is caused in part by the El Nino, the impact of which is typically felt more strongly in the second calendar year, reported the BBC.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on December 06, 2015, with the headline '2015 looks set to be warmest year on record'. Subscribe