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Planet Enters 'Uncharted Territory'

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Iceberg in Antarctica. Photo credit: Max Pixel

Global temperatures are on the rise again as 2016 has been marked as the hottest on record. The World Meteorological Organization (WMO), which published its annual assessment of the climate today, said the unusually warm weather has continued into 2017.

Global warming, experts say, is largely driven by human activity and the release of carbon dioxide emissions. But an El Niño weather pattern consisting of naturally warm weather in the equatorial Pacific region is also a contributor.

"Even without a strong El Niño in 2017, we are seeing other remarkable changes across the planet that are challenging the limits of our understanding of the climate system. We are now in truly uncharted territory," World Climate Research Programme Director David Carlson said in a release.


In the WMO's annual State of the Global Climate, it said that in the years since 2001, temperatures have been at least 0.4 degrees Celsius above the long-term average for the 1961-1990 base period. And those temperatures continue to be consistent with a warming trend of 0.1-0.2 degrees Celsius per decade, it added.

Furthermore, the 2015-16 El Niño weather events have only increased the warming, it continued, noting that global sea levels rose during the El Niño event, with 2016 levels hitting new highs. Meantime, global sea ice extent fell by more than 4 million square kilometers below the average November levels.

Warm ocean temperatures have also contributed to "significant" coral bleaching while it has impacted marine food chains, ecosystems and fisheries.

And CO2 levels hit the symbolic benchmark of 400 parts per million in 2015. They are not expected to fall below that level for generations given the long-lasting nature of CO2, the report said. The result? Severe droughts that brought food insecurity to millions in southern and eastern African as well as Central America. Meantime, Hurricane Matthew, which blew through Haiti and up the Eastern seaboard last October, caused significant financial losses in the U.S.

"This report confirms that the year 2016 was the warmest on record—a remarkable 1.1 °C above the pre-industrial period, which is 0.06 °C above the previous record set in 2015. This increase in global temperature is consistent with other changes occurring in the climate system," WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas said.

"Globally averaged sea surface temperatures were also the warmest on record, global sea levels continued to rise, and Arctic sea-ice extent was well below average for most of the year," he added. "With levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere consistently breaking new records, the influence of human activities on the climate system has become more and more evident."

This WMO report is getting released just after the Trump administration unveiled its proposed budget for the next fiscal year—one that would cut funding not just for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency but also the climate initiatives established during the Obama years. President Trump has further issued an executive order that essentially said that his Department of Justice would cease to defend the Clean Power Plan in court.

"While the data show an ever increasing impact of human activities on the climate system, the Trump administration and senior Republicans in Congress continue to bury their heads in the sand," Professor Robert Watson, a distinguished climate scientist at the UK's University of East Anglia and a former head of the UN's climate science panel, told the Guardian.

The newspaper previously said that the 2016 temperature data shows that temperatures levels have risen 1.1 degrees Celsius above the levels just seen before the industrial revolution. That's when the developed world began to deploy fossil-fuels on a large-scale basis. The rising temperatures, however, come "perilously close" to the 1.5 degree Celsius ceiling that the global community agreed to in December 2015.

"Earth is a planet in upheaval due to human-caused changes in the atmosphere," Jeffrey Kargel, a glaciologist at the University of Arizona in the US. told the Guardian. "In general, drastically changing conditions do not help civilization, which thrives on stability."

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