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The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) recently published a report, ‘WMO statement on the state of the global climate in 2016’, which paints an alarming picture of climate change to date.

Climate change is real: 2016 warmest year ever

In essence, the report confirms that 2016 was the warmest year ever recorded, with temperatures 1.1°C above the pre-industrial period. It was 0.83°C warmer than the average for the 1961-1990 reference period, 0.52°C warmer than in 1981-2010 and 0.06°C ahead of the previous record set in 2015. 2016 is hence the warmest year on record since pre-industrial times, both for the oceans and for land areas, and for both the northern and southern hemispheres.

It is worth remembering that, according to IPCC experts, at the current rate of greenhouse gas emissions, our planet will see the fateful 2°C temperature rise by 2040 – which is less than 25 years away.

Climate change: carbon dioxide at new highs

Other measurements confirm these changes.

  • in 2016, carbon dioxide in the atmosphere reached new highs of 400.0 parts per million (ppm)
  • the maximum annual sea ice extent was the lowest ever recorded in 2016
  • globally-averaged sea surface temperatures over 2016 were the highest on record
  • the mean sea level had risen by 20 cm since the start of the 20th century, largely due to the thermal expansion of the oceans and the melting of glaciers and the ice caps. According to the World Glacier Monitoring Service, mountain glaciers continued to recede in 2016.

Climate change made worse by El Nino

It should be stressed that in 2016, global warming was exacerbated by the powerful El Niño of 2015/16, especially at the start of the year. Years in which a high-intensity El Niño episode ends, such as 1973, 1983 and 1998, generally show an additional warming of 0.1-0.2°C, and 2016 was no exception.

Situations already critical were made even worse in certain regions. The El Niño phenomenon had some unexpected repercussions: in 2015, for example, it accelerated the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere. It exacerbated the lower levels of CO2 absorption by vegetation in drought-affected regions. Also, the number of forest fires resulting from drought conditions increased.

Climate change: dramatic consequences for the preservation of biodiversity

For example, very high ocean temperatures prompted coral bleaching in tropical regions such as Okinawa or along the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. Fiji reported excess mortality in fish stocks; sea surface temperatures that were much higher than normal – by 3°C in some places – wreaked havoc on the physical, chemical and biological components of the marine environment with a knock-on effect on food chains and marine ecosystems.

Fishing activities, which are vital to local communities and the economy, were inevitably affected. North-eastern Brazil experienced a drought described by observers in the region as exceptional; after heavy rains in January 2016, there was virtually no rainfall over the rest of the year. In 2016, national cereal production there was 22% lower than the average for the previous five years.

Severe droughts plunged millions of people into food insecurity in eastern and southern Africa and Central America. Hurricane Matthew severely affected the people of Haiti, Cuba and the Dominican Republic and caused significant economic losses in the US. And lastly, heavy rains and extensive flooding hit eastern and southern Asia.

BNP Paribas Asset Management (BNPP AM) helps to tackle the issue of global warming through its SRI funds, which invest in companies that work to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. At the same time, BNPP AM is actively involved in the working groups of many international climate change investor coalitions and, more generally, engages in dialogue and consultation to encourage companies to adopt best ESG practices.

Written on 23/10/2017 Also read:

COP 23 – a working COP setting the climate agenda for 2018

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