A monster El Nino firing off in the Pacific. A massive fossil fuel driven accumulation of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere pushing CO2 levels well above 400 parts per million. The contribution of other greenhouse gasses pushing the total global heat forcing into the range of 485 parts per million CO2e. Given this stark context, we knew the numbers were probably going to be bad. We just didn’t know how bad. And, looking at the initial measures coming in, we can definitely say that this is serious.
According to today’s report from Japan’s Meteorological Agency, global temperatures jumped by a ridiculous 0.36 degrees Celsius from the period of December 2014 — the previous hottest December in the global climate record — through December 2015 — the new hottest December by one heck of a long shot. To put such an amazing year-on-year monthly jump in global temperatures into context, the average decadal rate of global temperature increase has been in the range of 0.15 C every ten years for the past three and a half decades. It’s as if you lumped 20 years of human forced warming all into one 12 month differential.
(Japan’s Meteorological Agency shows a terrifyingly sharp jump in global temperatures for the month of December, 2015. Image Source: JMA.)
Taking a look at this amazing monthly jump in global temperatures in terms of longer timeframes, we find that December of 2015 came in at 1.05 C above the 20th Century Average and a terrifying (yes, no other word can describe) 1.42 C departure from average temperatures at the start of the record during 1890.
The world is now exploring monthly global temperature averages that are hitting very close to a dangerous 1.5 C above preindustrial levels. And though these numbers do not reflect yearly averages that will probably be much lower — in the range of 1 to 1.2 C above 1880 for 2015 and 2016 — we should be very clear that such high readings remain cause for serious concern. Concern for the potential that 2016 may also see continued new record hot annual temperatures on top of previous record hot years 2014 and and 2015. And concern that we may well be just one more strong El Nino away from breaking through or coming dangerously close to the 1.5 C annual average temperature threshold.
There is cause here for concern and there is certainly some cause for alarm. Alarm in the sense that the world really needs to be ever-more serious about reducing global fossil fuel emissions to near zero as rapidly as possible. Otherwise, we might well break 2 C — not before 2100, but before 2050.
(NASA and NOAA Analysis to soon follow)