Climate Change: 2016 Set to be the Warmest Year on Record

Environment, Science 2016-07-29

2016 is set to be another hottest year on record, beating the records set in 2015, and 2014 before that. Global temperatures have always fluctuated due to natural factors such as shifts in the earth’s orbit, however, with the ever-increasing population there are now many human factors influencing our climate.

Scientists believe that at the end of past ice ages the planet warmed up by around 4-7 degrees Celsius over the next 5000 years. The warming that we are experiencing today is occurring at a rate approximately eight times faster than ice age warming. This indicates that global warming is not a natural event.

 

How are humans responsible?

Greenhouse gases and aerosols produced and used by humans have changed the composition of the atmosphere leading to temperature imbalances in the climate system. However, our largest contribution to climate change is the release of carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels. Human effects on the climate are far more significant than most natural influences, such as changes in solar output. However, there is a more powerful natural force that is contributing hugely to the current upward trend in temperatures, El Niño.

 

El Niño

El Niño is a natural phenomenon that drives up global temperatures as a consequence of weaker winds across the tropical Pacific. Usually, these ‘trade’ winds will push warmer surface water to the west side of the ocean. This leaves colder water at the eastern side, and subsequently causes a temperature difference between the east and west. Warmer air caused by the accumulation of warm water to the west rises up and can cause wetter, unsettled weather.

El Niño comes into effect when certain conditions result in weaker trade winds. This allows the temperature difference to equalise somewhat across the ocean, with the warmest water now moving away from the west coast. Movement of the warm water results in changes in rain and wind patterns, and causes a knock-on effect on weather that can travel around the globe. The increase in global temperatures is caused by the release of extra heat at the surface of the Pacific – hence El Niño years can be warmer than usual.

For more information about El Niño, watch this video

So El Niño may be partially responsible for the recent increases in temperature, however this is not a long-term effect. To what extent is this increase also linked to greenhouse gases and global warming? Now that El Niño is fading, it is likely that 2017 will in fact be slightly cooler than 2016. Despite this, overall increases in temperature are still expected over a longer time period. So what are we doing to try and minimise global warming?

 

Paro Taktsang is the popular name of Taktsang Palphug Monastery (also known as Tiger's Nest), a prominent Himalayan Buddhist sacred site and temple complex, located in the cliff side of the upper Paro valley, in Bhutan.

The Paris Climate Treaty

In December 2015, 195 countries came together to make a treaty with the aim of keeping the long-term global temperature increase to below 2°C. The countries will reconvene every 5 years to review targets and ensure the latest science and technology is being employed. Not only does the treaty address the idea of limiting climate change, but the governments have also agreed to strengthen societies’ abilities to deal with the inevitable impacts of a warmer globe.

A country whose efforts to minimise climate change cannot be overlooked is Bhutan. This year Bhutan is boasting not only a carbon neutral footprint, this small, land-locked country is actually carbon negative! Seventy-two percent of the country is under forest cover, acting as a large carbon sink which, in time, has the potential to offset 50 million tonnes of carbon dioxide per year. Bhutan’s promise to remain carbon neutral forever gained recognition at the Paris climate treaty in 2015. With a 15-year transitional funding plan and numerous strategies including investing in sustainable transport, subsidising the cost of LED lights and aiming for a paperless government, Bhutan looks set to be the leader in carbon neutral living for the foreseeable future.

Find out more about Bhutan’s plans from this TED talk.

 

Do you think we can slow down climate change? What are you doing to look after our planet? Let me know at @HelenAtNotch

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