Originally published by ABC News
Australia’s chief scientist has warned the planet is “losing the battle” against climate change, after new data showed February set a “completely unprecedented” record for the hottest month since global records began.
The data released by NASA compared each month going back to 1880 against average temperatures between 1951 and 1980, and confirmed preliminary analysis that February was the hottest month on record.
“You wouldn’t want to dismiss it. There is genuine reason for concern,” Dr Alan Finkel said during an appearance on the ABC’s Q&A program, which focused on science and also discussed AI and gender equality.
“For all the effort we are putting into trying to avoid increases of emission, we are losing.
“What we are doing with solar, wind, changing practices, behavioural practices and things like that, we’re not winning the battle.”
Meteorologist Dr Jeff Masters said although the absolute hottest month on record was July 2015, July and August tend to be 4C hotter than January and February because the large land mass in the Northern Hemisphere cools the planet during the northern winter.
Writing on the Weather Underground blog, Dr Masters and his co-author Bob Henson said February was exceptional because it was 1.35C hotter than the long-term average, while July was only 0.75C hotter than average.
“Perhaps even more remarkable is that February 2015 crushed the previous February record [set during the peak of the 1997-98 El Nino] by a massive 0.47C,” they wrote.
The previous record was January this year, at 1.14C hotter than average, which broke the December 2015 record of 1.10C.
NASA’s data also showed that although October 2015 was the first month since 1880 to be more than 1C warmer than average, every month since October has exceeded that mark.
The last month to be colder than average was September 1992, and the last year with two months colder than average was 1978.
Warming ‘completely unprecedented’, world now in a climate emergency
Dr Masters and Mr Henson described February’s result as “an extraordinary margin to beat a monthly world temperature record by,” and an “ominous milestone”.
“This result is a true shocker, and yet another reminder of the incessant long-term rise in global temperature resulting from human-produced greenhouse gases,” they said.
Professor Stefan Rahmstorf from the Potsdam Institute of Climate Impact Research and a visiting professorial fellow at the University of NSW, told Fairfax Media the warming was “completely unprecedented.”
“We are in a kind of climate emergency now,” he said.
“Governments have promised to act and they need to do better than what they promised in Paris.”
The COP21 climate conference in Paris signed an agreement in December 2016 that repeated a 2C target but said the world should pursue a target of limiting warning to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels.
However, Dr Masters said the world is already 1C warmer than the late nineteenth century, and heat stored in the oceans has already committed us to at least another 0.5 degrees of atmospheric warming.
“In short, we are now hurtling at a frightening pace toward the globally agreed maximum of 2.0C warming over pre-industrial levels,” he said.
Dr Masters said the next several months should remain well above the long-term average, and 2016 may top 2015 as the warmest year in global record-keeping.