2016 was warmest year on record, EU program warns
By Eszter Zalan
Last year was the warmest on record and almost 1.5 degrees Celsius higher than temperatures in the 1750s, according to an EU earth observation project.
The Copernicus Climate Change Service also said 2016 was 0.2 degrees Celsius warmer than 2015, the previous record-breaking year.
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Figures published by the service’s London branch on Thursday (5 January) showed that global temperatures in 2016 exceeded 14.8 degrees Celsius, being 1.3 degrees higher than when records began in the mid-18th century.
Copernicus, which gathers data on climate, migration, and agriculture in order to flag up trends and to warn of emergencies, is a joint project of the EU and the European Space Agency.
The up-to-date information is free and open to private citizens and public authorities.
In 2015, 174 countries agreed in Paris to limit global warming to less than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.
However, data from Copernicus shows that global temperatures in February 2016 already touched the 1.5 degrees Celsius limit.
Global temperatures also remained well above average in the second half of 2016, in a development linked to low sea-ice cover in the Arctic and Antarctic regions, the service said.
The largest differences in regional average temperatures were found in the Arctic.
Copernicus warned that future temperature increases could cause billions of euros of damage and affect the availability of fresh water and crop yields.
"Land and sea temperatures are rising along with sea-levels, while the world’s sea-ice extent, glacier volume and snow cover are decreasing; rainfall patterns are changing and climate-related extremes such as heatwaves, floods and droughts are increasing in frequency and intensity for many regions," Juan Garces de Marcilla, the director of the Copernicus service, said in a statement.
Copernicus observed other extremes last year, for instance, mass-scale wildfires in Canada and Siberia due to high surface temperatures.
It also recorded an increase in CO2, the gas that contributes to global warming, in the atmosphere.
It said that vegetation growth in the summer months of 2016 was inadequate to take up the extra CO2 levels, as had usually been the case.
Copernicus' data is based on millions of daily measurements.
Its latest findings are another wake-up call for governments to tackle climate change.
The election of Donald Trump in the US has put a question mark over the future of the Paris climate accord, however.
Trump, who takes office on 20 January, has said that the US, one of the world’s worst polluters, might withdraw from the pact.
He has also cast doubt on the human cause of climate change despite the scientific consensus on the subject.
He said that it could be a Chinese hoax designed to make US manufacturing less competitive and voiced support for the coal and oil industries.