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The hottest month in history

  • Published at 12:01 am October 8th, 2016
  • Last updated at 03:57 pm October 11th, 2016
The hottest month in history

July 2016 was the hottest month the planet has been since we started keeping records in 1880.

The month was not only 0.84°C hotter than the 20th century monthly average (when we combine both sea surface and land surface temperature), but also 0.11°C  hotter than July last year.

This should be a warning for world leaders to do more to reduce greenhouse gases emissions, and do it fast.

In fact, based on data collected by NASA, global average temperatures in the last nine months have consistently broken temperature records for that specific month (ie this January was the hottest January ever recorded, this February the hottest February, March the hottest March, etc.).

This means we may be on our way to experiencing the warmest year on record.

Already, the first half of the year 2016 was an average 1.3°C warmer than the pre-industrial levels.

The one caveat is that because of La Nina -- the recurring oceanic and atmospheric pattern across the Pacific Ocean which lowers sea surface temperatures -- the last few months of this will likely be cooler.

While these differences in temperature may seem only slight, at a planetary level they are actually quite significant.

Scientists are already observing the impacts of this “slight” warming in the form of glaciers melting in  nearby Nepal, sea-levels rising on the southern coast of the United States, and seasons generally becoming more unpredictable worldwide, which is partly why many Bengalis no longer say there are six seasons in the year as they traditionally used to.

The latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report further predicts that global warming will also bring forth more frequent cyclones, foster the spread of diseases such as malaria, and lead to more extreme weather events such as droughts and heavy rainfall.

As the Dhaka Tribune reported earlier this week, we have already crossed the symbolic milestone of 400 parts per million of CO2 in the atmosphere, which many saw as the point of no return for human-induced climate change.

NASA-data

At this stage, if countries do nothing to reduce the rate of emissions, scientists predict the concentration of CO2 would increase threefold by the end of the century, causing the planet to warm about 4°C above pre-industrial levels.

For Bangladesh — based on research findings of the “High End Climate Impact and Extremes” project conducted at the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology — the regional temperature increase under these same conditions could be between 3.7°C and 5.7°C.

And even if we moderately reduce greenhouse gas emissions, there could still be a global temperature rise above 2°C.

This is at odds with the goal of recent UN climate change treaty, the Paris Agreement, which aims to keep planetary temperatures well below 2°C with an ambitious goal of 1.5°C.

However, a recent crescendo of devastating impacts -- heatwaves, deadly flooding, storm surges fuelled by rising seas -- has pushed world leaders, particularly in the Global South, and leading scientists to make the ambitious goal of 1.5°C the only goal.

This will only be possible if countries commit to drastically reducing their emissions immediately. The challenge with the Paris Agreement is that -- although it recently legally came into force -- it is not legally binding  like the earlier UN climate treaty, the Kyoto Protocol.

Unless we are able to keep these temperatures to these goals, countries like Bangladesh will need a lot of support helping their populations adapt to new climate conditions.

While the UN climate body has created the Green Climate Fund, which intends to provide at least USD 100 billion per year by 2020 for climate action, accessing the fund is both challenging and lengthy process.

Yet, given how fast temperatures are increasing, the sooner countries at high risk get access to adaptation funding, the better.

AKM Saiful Islam is a professor of the Institute of Water and Flood Management at the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology. He can be emailed at [email protected] Meraz Mostafa works at International Center for Climate Change and Development.