The world is now nearly 1°C hotter than it was before human beings started burning fossil fuels. While appearing small, that number is a big jump from the 14.3°C average that the world should be. For countries on the equator it has meant an increase of double that – and 1.5 times that for Africa.
An increase of that magnitude means 2015 will go down in history as the hottest year ever recorded, taking that record from 2014. January and April of this year were the only months to not break their own records.
Since 2000, average global monthly temperature records have been broken 32 times. The last time an average monthly cold record was broken was during World War I.
The Met Office – one of a handful of institutions that have reliable temperature records going back more than a century – says most of this temperature increase was down to global warming, but an unusually strong El Niño had given it further impetus.
This phenomenon warms the Pacific Ocean and causes drought in the southern hemisphere and flooding in the northern hemisphere. In South Africa, El Niño has exacerbated an existing drought and pushed five provinces into being declared drought disaster areas.
Met Office research fellow Professor Chris Folland says “2015 is on track to be the warmest year on record”.
It has also seen temperature records tumble – on October 27 the small Western Cape town of Vredendal set a global temperature record for that day, hitting 48,4°C.
During spring, dozens of temperature records were broken across the country with a corresponding dearth of rainfall. Highest maximum temperature and highest minimum temperature records were set.
The South African Weather Service says that this will only get worse in the coming months as El Niño continues to increase temperatures until winter. “Drier and warmer conditions are expected to be extreme … and may worsen the current drought conditions the country is experiencing.”
2016 to top 2015
The Met Office has predicted that – as a result of El Niño continuing next year – 2016 stands a good chance of setting the record for being the hottest year on record. That means 2014, 2015 and 2016 will stand as the hottest consecutive years on record.
It predicts that 2016 will be 1.14°C hotter than pre-industrial levels.
The Paris Agreement – passed last week at the end of COP21 – has as its main goal the task of limiting average global temperature increases by 2°C, with an aspirational goal of limiting those increases to 1.5°C.
The agreement was slammed by non-government groups for not giving any of the details of how this would be achieved, with research suggesting that to reach the 1.5°C target, the world would have to go fossil fuel-free by 2030.