Every year the World Metrological Organisation (WMO)* provides a summary of the state of global climate on behalf of the United Nations, based on data from a wide range of international organisations. In mid-March the 2016 report was produced, and it makes sobering reading. The year 2016 was the warmest on record, reaching 1.1oC above pre-industrial levels, and warmer by 0.06oC than 2015, which itself was a record. Similarly, globally averaged sea-surface temperatures were the warmest on record; global sea-levels continued to rise and Arctic sea ice was well below average. The year was also characterised by severe droughts, particularly in East Africa, and the UK’s Disasters Emergency Committee current appeal on behalf of 16 million people facing starvation is a consequence of this. Moreover, there have been hurricanes in Haiti, floods in SE Asia, and coral bleaching in Australia.

The influence of human activities on the climate system has become increasingly evident. In mid-March the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere reached 408 parts per million (ppm), which is 40% above pre-industrial levels, and far above the natural variability range of 180-300 ppm of at least the last 800,000 years – which we know from ice-core records from Antarctica. The last time CO2 levels were previously this high from other geological evidence, no humans existed. And we know from basic physics, in a previous SusKes article, that global warming is caused by increasing CO2 in the atmosphere.

A radical and immediate shift from fossil fuels is essential. This need not be too painful. What is there not to like about a cleaner atmosphere, or the creation of new jobs in a vibrant renewable energy industry? The Paris Agreement on climate change, entered into force under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change on 4 November 2016 after being ratified by most the world’s nations. It offers hope that we can reign in dangerous climate change, but we need to ensure that our politicians keep the issue high on the agenda

* "Climate breaks multiple records in 2016, with global impacts." March 2017