World records are now being broken year after year, but this is nothing to celebrate

It was pretty damn cold last month. The sort of cold where fingers retract inside clothes and toes edge away from the holes in your favourite pair of shoes. But it was not as cold as it should have been.

A warm winter in the southern hemisphere and a hot summer in the northern hemisphere are hallmarks of the globe getting warmer – small changes here and there adding up to climate change.

But the past 14 months haven’t come with small changes. Heat records have been smashed across the globe. Collated, these big changes show that July was the hottest month in recorded history. This is according to data released by Nasa on Monday. That data set runs back to 1880.

According to that data, July was 0.84°C hotter than the average of what it should be – determined by global temperatures from 1951 to 1980. This July was 0.11°C hotter than last July, the previous holder of the record for hottest month ever. Jumps of that magnitude are almost unheard of; previously decades were often a hundredth of a degree hotter or colder than one another. It normally takes centuries for the sort of jump that happened last month. Now nine of the 10 hottest years have happened since the turn of the 21st century.

Some of this warming is owed to a strong El Niño phenomenon in the past year. This rapidly warms the Pacific Ocean, driving up temperatures across the world. It also means drought in the southern hemisphere and floods in the northern hemisphere. But Nasa and other agencies have pinned most of the warming on human emissions of greenhouse gases. This is why July was 1.3°C hotter than before the Industrial Revolution.


The trend of 14 consecutive, record-breaking months is confirmed by similar data sets from the United Kingdom’s Met Office, the Japan Meteorological Agency and the United States National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration. These are further backed up by smaller, regional monitoring agencies, such as Weather SA.

El Niño is wearing out, so temperature increases will not be as extreme as in the early months of 2016, when it was at its strongest.

But Nasa and the other meteorological agencies predict that 2016 is on track to take last year’s title as the hottest year on record. That will also set the record for the first time three consecutive years have traded the title.

This rapid heating is a problem when climate change negotiations – centred on the United Nation’s COP process – decided in Paris last year that countries should ensure global average temperature increases do not exceed 2°C.

For African countries and island states, even this goal is too much.

Predictions for their future, released by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, show that even a 1.5°C increase in temperatures will be catastrophic.

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Sipho Kings
Sipho Kings is the acting editor-in-chief of the Mail & Guardian

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