A resurgent El Nino and persistently high levels of greenhouse gases are likely to make 2007 the world’s hottest year ever recorded, climate scientists said on Thursday.
The warmest year on record is 1998, an El Nino year when the average global temperature was 0,52 degrees Celsius higher than the long-term average of 14 degrees.
There is a 60% chance that the average global temperature for 2007 will match or break that record, Britain’s Meteorological Office (Met Office) said.
“This new information represents another warning that climate change is happening around the world,” the Met Office said in a statement.
Figures for 2006 are not yet complete but the Met Office said temperatures were high enough to rank among the top 10 hottest years on record.
El Nino — a cyclical warming trend now under way in the Pacific Ocean — typically leads to higher temperatures worldwide. The last El Nino was in 2002.
This year’s El Nino is not as strong as in 1997 and 1998, but the combination of El Nino and the steady increase in temperatures due to global warming may be enough to break the record, said Phil Jones, the director of the climatic research unit at the University of East Anglia.
“Because of the warming due to greenhouses gases, even a moderate warming event is enough to push the global temperatures over the top,” he said.
Scientists said temperatures would rise due to carbon emissions from burning fossil fuels.
“El Nino is an independent variable,” he said. “But the underlying trends in the warming of the earth are almost certainly due to the release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.”
El Nino can sometimes lead to milder weather: the north-eastern United States is likely to have fewer hurricanes this year because of El Nino.
However, it can increase the severity of weather-related disasters such as typhoons in the Philippines or drought in Southern Africa and Australia, a country already suffering through its longest dry spell on record.
The Met Office said El Nino would continue to disrupt weather patterns for the first few months of 2007.
Environmental groups said the report added weight to the movement to control greenhouse gases.
It came only a day after the Met Office reported that 2006 had been Britain’s warmest year since 1659, and three months after Sir Nicholas Stern, a senior government economist, estimated that the effects of climate change could eventually cost nations 5% to 20% of global gross domestic product each year.
“The evidence that we’re doing something very dangerous with the climate is now amassing,” said Campaign Against Climate Change coordinator Philip Thornhill.
“We need to put the energy and priority [into climate change] that is being put into a war effort,” he said. “It’s a political struggle to get action done — and these reports help.” — Sapa-AP