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The natural world and its ecosystems is a major, cost-effective ally in the goal of a climate stable world. Creative management of nature - from forests, rivers and wetlands to oceans and drylands – helps boost food security, cleaner air and biodiversity while reducing the vulnerability of people to climate change.

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The trend for increasingly extreme and frequent weather matching climate change forecasts has been put into stark perspective by the latest data while the economic impact of one of the strongest El Nino's on record is acting as a red warning light of worse to come, if the world does not act fast enough to cut the concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

Drawing on consolidated analysis of the world’s major meteorological agencies, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) has confirmed that the global average surface temperature in 2015 broke all previous records by a wide margin. For the first time on record, temperatures in 2015 were about 1°C above the pre-industrial era.

The WMO says that the fifteen of the 16 hottest years on record have all been this century, with 2015 being significantly warmer than the record-level temperatures seen in 2014. Underlining the long-term trend, 2011-15 is the warmest five-year period on record.

The news comes as Asia is experiencing unusually cold weather and the United States a major blizzard, a sobering reminder that climate change is about extreme impacts from all kinds of weather as the weather systems we have taken for granted for so long shift into more chaotic patterns under the influence of the greenhouse effect.

No single weather event can be attributed to climate change but the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events is increasing as predicted as global average temperatures rise, and this will have severe economic implications.

For example, a warmer world means fewer days of snowfall, but heavier snowfall on those days when it does snow. This is because snow requires moist air, and a warmer atmosphere holds more moisture.

 NASA video showing 135 Years of Global Warming in 30 seconds

Burning of Fossil Fuels Confirmed as Prime Driver of Record Temperatures

In a new study published to coincide with the WMO's findings, an international team of scientists on Monday said that without greenhouse-gas emissions from burning coal and oil, the odds are vanishingly small that 13 out of the 15 warmest years ever measured would all have happened in the current, still young century. The odds they came up with ranged between 1 in 5,000 and 1 in 170,000 - a large range but fundamentally an impossibly unlikely occurence, no matter which side of the margin you pick.

The scientists performed a statistical analysis, combining observational data and comprehensive computer simulations of the climate system. “Natural climate variability causes temperatures to wax and wane over a period of several years, rather than varying erratically from one year to the next,” said lead-author Michael Mann, director of the Earth System Science Center in Penn State.

Professor Stefan Rahmstorf of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research said: “Natural climate variations just can't explain the observed recent global heat records, but man-made global warming can.”

Extreme Weather Mainly Impacting Agriculture

The anomalous global average warmth comes with substantial economic impacts, most noticeable in agriculture. A study published in the journal Nature this month shows that droughts and extreme heat have cut cereal production by 9 to 10 percent on average around the world in the last half-century, and the impact has worsened since the mid-1980s.

Food security is a major concern in 2016. WMO says that an exceptionally strong El Niño and global warming joined forces with dramatic effect on the climate system last year, showing the result that can be expected as the climate change already in the system progresses to the point where the current strong El Nino impacts become the norm and will grow even worse over time without faster action to cut emissions. El Niño is a complex global climactic event marked by exceptionally warm Pacific Ocean water off the coast of Ecuador and Peru.

Research from the International Monetary Fund shows that the 2015 – 2016 El Niño will be one of the major drivers of economic performance in many key countries, with Zimbabwe and South Africa facing drought and food crises, and Indonesia struggling with forest fires, and massive flooding in the American Midwest.

Not only the agricultural sector is affected. Other research shows that extreme weather immediately affects key short-term macroeconomic statistics in countries like the US, adding or subtracting 100,000 jobs to monthly US employment, the single most-watched economic statistic in the world.

Climate Impacts Here to Stay, But Paris Agreement Can Prevent the Worst

"The power of El Niño will fade in the coming months but the impacts of human-induced climate change will be with us for many decades, said WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas.

Mr Taalas also said that the universal Paris Agreement on climate change clinched last month provides a chance of staving off the worst impacts of climate change and for the world to stay within the internationally agreed maximum 2°C limit, provided a higher level of ambition to reduce emissions is reached.

"Climate change will have increasingly negative impacts for at least the next five decades,” he said. This emphasizes the need to invest in adaptation besides mitigation. It is important to strengthen the capability of countries to provide better disaster early warnings to minimize human and economic losses. Climate change increases the risk of weather related disasters which are an obstacle to sustainable development.”

Read the WMO press release

Image: Tim J Keegan, Flickr

 

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