July was the hottest single month since records began in the 19th century, driven by greenhouse gases and an El Nino event warming the Pacific. And NASA this week cited a 99 percent chance that 2016 will be the warmest year, ahead of 2015 and 2014.
In a welcome break, a new annual record is unlikely in 2017 since the effect of El Nino – a phenomenon that warms the eastern Pacific and can disrupt weather patterns worldwide every two-seven years – is fading.
“Next year is probably going to be cooler than 2016,” said Phil Jones of the Climatic Research Unit at Britain’s University of East Anglia. He added there was no sign of a strong La Nina, El Nino’s opposite that can cool the planet.
In 1998, a powerful El Nino led to a record year of heat and it took until 2005 to surpass the warmth. That hiatus led some people who doubt mainstream findings that climate change has a human cause to conclude that global warming had stopped.
“If 2017 is cooler, there will probably be some climate sceptics surfing on this information,” said Jean-Noel Thepaut, head of the Copernicus Climate Change Service at the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts.
“The long-term trend is towards warming but there is natural variability so there are ups and downs. The scientific community will have again to explain what is happening,” he told Reuters.
The spike in temperatures in 1998 may also have contributed for several years to reduced government attention to climate change, which has been linked to more heat waves, floods, downpours and rising sea levels.
“One thing that the scientific community needs to be careful about is that they are not gearing up for a new ‘hiatus’ event,” said Glen Peters of the Center for International Climate and Energy Research in Oslo.
At a Paris summit last December, governments agreed the most comprehensive plan yet to shift away from fossil fuels, setting a goal of limiting the rise in temperatures to “well below” two degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial times, ideally 1.5 Celsius.
Scientists are meeting in Geneva this week to sketch out themes for a report about the 1.5C goal that was requested by world leaders at the summit for delivery in 2018.