September’s hot world record reignites climate alarm

Scorching heat across the planet last month shattered records, making last month the warmest September on record, according to the European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S).

Globally the month was 0.05°C warmer than in 2019 and 0.8°C warmer than in 2016, which previously held the records for the warmest and second warmest September on record.

Unusually high temperatures were recorded off the coast of northern Siberia, in the Middle East and parts of South America and Australia.

This year continues to break temperature records, C3S says. 

“Every month in 2020 has ranked among the top four warmest for the month in question, with January at 0.03°C warmer than any previous January and May at 0.05°C warmer than any previous May. It is now confirmed that September 2020 is yet another record-breaking month for the C3S dataset.”


Nhlanhla Sibisi, the climate and energy campaigner for Greenpeace Africa, says it’s not surprising that September has become another record month and the reason is a result of greenhouse gas emissions. 

A study released this week found that the economic effect of climate change is being underestimated by trillions of dollars.

Published in Nature Communi­cations, it shows that current economic forecasting models fail to factor in unpredictable variations in global temperatures, “rather than the more predictable rising temperatures themselves”, according to a statement by the University of Warwick. The study was led by Georgetown University.

“When we cause a system like the earth’s climate to warm, it does not warm smoothly and uniformly,” says Sandra Chapman, of Warwick University’s department of physics, in the statement. 

“Changes in the Earth’s temperature translate into economic damages and our work estimates the additional economic damage that we can expect due to these fluctuations in the Earth’s global mean temperature on top of the smooth gradual increase due to increasing CO2 in the atmosphere.”

Raphael Calel, of Georgetown University’s McCourt School of Public Policy, says the study identifies a new category of economic costs that arise from the “unpredictable, but avoidable fluctuations in global climate that we’re bound to face”.

“To prevent these losses, we need a more diverse set of policy responses with increased investment in adaptation and resilience.”

The University of Warwick says the extra damages, “anywhere from $10-trillion to $50-trillion over the next 200 years when measured in today’s dollars”, show that the cost of inaction is substantially higher than previously believed.

C3S said the year-to-date global temperature anomaly shows that 2020 is on a par with 2016, the warmest year on record. For the same period, 2020 is warmer than 2019, the second warmest year on record.

“Over the last three months of 2020, climate events such as La Niña and likely low levels of autumn Arctic ice cover will influence whether the year as a whole will become the warmest on record.”

In Europe, a record high average temperature, at about 0.2°C warmer than the previous warmest September of 2018, was recorded. 

Siberia is experiencing particularly extreme temperatures this year — unusually warm winters and spring temperatures were up to 10°C higher than usual during May. 

“Those exceptional temperatures continued throughout the summer, with the average June temperature for the whole of Arctic Siberia more than 5°C higher than the 1981-2010 average and a station-based record daily maximum temperature of 38° C,” C3S says.

The Arctic Sea ice extent for September was the second-lowest on record, both for the daily extent and for the monthly average extent.

“However, this is not totally unexpected, as sea ice extent has been declining for several decades and September is the month that tends to show the lowest values for the year.”

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Sheree Bega
Sheree Bega is an environment reporter at the Mail & Guardian.

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