Year on year climate change attracts greater attention as its impact is felt more frequently and the need for action intensifies. 2016 was no different. So let’s have a look back at the hottest stories our planet had to offer in the past year.
2016 was the warmest year on record; the third year in a row to break the global temperature record. 16 of the past 17 hottest years have now occurred this century and we are over halfway to the 2-degree warming that spells dangerous climatic consequences. Five of 2016’s first six months also broke records for the smallest monthly Arctic sea ice extent since the start of consistent satellite records in 1979. Warmer oceans desecrated 93% of the Great Barrier Reef with coral bleaching.
Warming temperatures cause more frequent and more severe extreme weather events around the world. 2016 saw two of the top five strongest cyclones hit Fiji and the Philippines and widespread floods and wildfires in the US. Hurricane Matthew, the strongest since 2007, rocked the Caribbean, killing upwards of 1600 people.
The proportion of CO2 has been increasing steadily from 280 parts per million (ppm) in 1800. 2016 was the first year on record when the proportion of CO2 in the atmosphere failed to fall below the 400 ppm benchmark; this will now be the case for the foreseeable future.
November saw the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States, the second largest carbon emitter. Trump denies global warming as a human induced problem, citing it as a Chinese-made concept attempting to disrupt US manufacturing and wants to pull out of the Paris Agreement. In a time when the need for leaders willing to act quickly on climate change is critical, the impacts of Trump’s presidency could be devastating for generations to come.
So… What’s the good news?
There is always hope. As of December 2016, 122 nations have ratified the Paris Agreement- an international effort aiming to keep global warming below 2 degrees Celsius and improve adaptation to the impacts of a changing climate. This is vital in the struggle on global warming and further cements climate change in the international political agenda. The ratifying nations have pledged to push on with their goals despite President-elect Trump’s wish to abandon it.
In June, Norway announced its desire to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2030. The country has divested itself off fossil fuels for energy over the past 3 years and now wants to see all of its vehicles go emission free.
In October, international negotiators agreed to phase out hydrofluorocarbons- greenhouse gasses found in air conditioners. The gasses are thousands of times more potent than CO2; reducing them will be vital.
Another agreement, signed by 191 countries, will allow the aviation industry, responsible for 7 per cent of global carbon emissions, to purchase carbon credits to offset their emissions. This could generate massive funds for a range of environmental projects; 2016 saw record divestment from fossil fuels and investment into renewables.
Climate change made frightening headlines in 2016; the need for immediate and global action is more desperate than ever before. But climate change can be slowed; it has to be because our future depends on it.