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The Last Four Years Were Likely the Hottest on Record

Climate
2018 is set to be the fourth warmest year on record. @WMO / Twitter

2018 will likely be the fourth hottest year on record, according to the United Nations' authoritative voice for weather and climate. The three years that were warmer? 2016, 2015 and 2017.

Furthermore, the 20 warmest years on record have been in the past 22 years, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said Thursday in its 2018 State of the Climate report.


The new report, based on five independently maintained global temperature data sets, adds ever more proof that global warming is unequivocal—and we'd better act now to reverse this alarming trend.

Unfortunately, the current pace of international government action is "insufficient" to limit warming, the UN Environment Programme warned yesterday in its 2018 Emissions Gap Report. In fact, the annual assessment found that after a three-year decline, heat-trapping greenhouse gas emissions actually increased to "historic levels" of 53.5 billion tonnes in 2017, with no signs of peaking.

"We are not on track to meet climate change targets and rein in temperature increases," WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas said today in a press release. "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."

Taalas stressed that exploitation of fossil fuels will push temperature rise "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," he said.

Scientists have already warned that 2019 could be an unusually warm year due to a forecasted El Niño, which could cause extreme weather and temperature spikes.

The new State of the Climate report shows that temperatures for the first ten months of 2018 were nearly 1°C above the pre-industrial baseline from 1850-1900.

Last month's widely disseminated climate report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change showed that average global temperatures between 2006-2015 were 0.86°C above the pre-industrial baseline. In the last five years, 2014-2018, it was 1.04°C above the pre-industrial baseline.

"These are more than just numbers," said WMO Deputy Secretary-General Elena Manaenkova in today's press release.

"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," she added. "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 WMO report comes just days before the critical climate summit COP24 in Katowice, Poland, where delegates from roughly 200 countries will create a "rulebook" on how to implement the 2015 Paris agreement to avoid disastrous climate change.

The Paris accord aims to keep global temperature rise this century to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and has a more aspirational target to limit temperature rise to 1.5°C.

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The researchers suggest that it is time to rethink retreat, which is often seen as a last resort and a sign of weakness. Instead, it should be seen as the smart option and an opportunity to build new communities.

"We propose a reconceptualization of retreat as a suite of adaptation options that are both strategic and managed," the paper states. "Strategy integrates retreat into long-term development goals and identifies why retreat should occur and, in doing so, influences where and when."

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"There's a definite rhetoric of, 'We're going to build it back better. We're going to win. We're going to beat this. Something technological is going to come and it's going to save us,'" said A.R. Siders, an assistant professor with the disaster research center at the University of Delaware and lead author of the paper, to the New York Times. "It's like, let's step back and think for a minute. You're in a fight with the ocean. You're fighting to hold the ocean in place. Maybe that's not the battle we want to pick."

Rethinking retreat could make it a strategic, efficient, and equitable way to adapt to the climate crisis, the study says.

Dr. Siders pointed out that it has happened before. She noted that in the 1970s, the small town of Soldiers Grove, Wisconsin moved itself out of the flood plain after one too many floods. The community found and reoriented the business district to take advantage of highway traffic and powered it entirely with solar energy, as the New York Times reported.

That's an important lesson now that rising sea levels pose a catastrophic risk around the world. Nearly 75 percent of the world's cities are along shorelines. In the U.S. alone coastline communities make up nearly 40 percent of the population— more than 123 million people, which is why Siders and her research team are so forthright about the urgency and the complexities of their findings, according to Harvard Magazine.

Some of those complexities include, coordinating moves across city, state or even international lines; cultural and social considerations like the importance of burial grounds or ancestral lands; reparations for losses or damage to historic practices; long-term social and psychological consequences; financial incentives that often contradict environmental imperatives; and the critical importance of managing retreat in a way that protects vulnerable and poor populations and that doesn't exacerbate past injustices, as Harvard Magazine reported.

If communities could practice strategic retreats, the study says, doing so would not only reduce the need for people to choose among bad options, but also improve their circumstances.

"It's a lot to think about," said Siders to Harvard Magazine. "And there are going to be hard choices. It will hurt—I mean, we have to get from here to some new future state, and that transition is going to be hard.…But the longer we put off making these decisions, the worse it will get, and the harder the decisions will become."

To help the transition, the paper recommends improved access to climate-hazard maps so communities can make informed choices about risk. And, the maps need to be improved and updated regularly, the paper said as the New York Times reported.


"It's not that everywhere should retreat," said Dr. Siders to the New York Times. "It's that retreat should be an option. It should be a real viable option on the table that some places will need to use."

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