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expert reaction to the World Meteorological Organisation’s State of the Global Climate in 2016 report

The World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) has published their State of the Global Climate in 2016 report.


Dr Friederike Otto, Deputy Director of the Environmental Change Institute at the University of Oxford, said:

“The WMO report showed that 2016 was not only a record in global mean temperature but also what this actually means for society: changing risks of extreme weather events.

“The report states that heatwaves and some other extremes can now often be attributed (or not) to climate change, for example an increased risk of heat waves in the Arctic by orders of magnitude, and also an increase of at least 40% of rainstorms in August in Louisiana.

“The question of whether and to what extent climate change and the state of the El Nino Southern Oscillation are drivers of the devastating droughts in 2016/2017 brings us to the current frontier of attribution science. With more and more scientists in particular in the affected regions in Africa, Asia and South America working on these questions this frontier will likely continue to expand rapidly in 2017.”


Dr Phil Williamson, Associate Fellow at the University of East Anglia, said:

“The WMO’s statement on the 2016 climate leaves no room for doubt.  The much-hyped warming hiatus is over – and the ‘missing’ heat energy didn’t go missing at all.  Instead that heat went into the ocean, and we got much of it back again last year.

“In the Olympics, records are broken by smaller and smaller amounts; in climate change, the opposite now seems to be true, not just for temperature, but for CO2 in the atmosphere, sea-ice cover and global sea level rise.  Human-driven climate change is now an empirically-verifiable fact, combining year-to-year variability with the consequences of our release of extra greenhouse gases.  Those who dispute that link are not sceptics, but anti-science deniers.”


Prof. Julienne Stroeve, Professor of Polar Observation & Modelling at UCL, said:

 While a record low minimum sea ice extent was not reached last summer in the Arctic, ice conditions have been tracking at record low conditions since October, persisting for six consecutive months, something not seen before in the satellite data record. Over in the Southern Hemisphere the sea also broke new record lows in the seasonal maximum and minimum extents, leading to the least amount of global sea ice ever recorded.”


Prof. Richard Betts, Head of Climate Impacts Research at the Met Office Hadley Centre, said:

“The CO2 rise in 2016 was the fastest on record – 3.4ppm/year – because the El Niño weakened the tropical carbon sink and gave the ongoing CO2 rise an extra kick on top of the effect of human emissions.  As a result, 2016 became the first year in which CO2 measurements at Mauna Loa remained above 400ppm all year round.  While this was inevitably going to happen sooner or later as emissions from fossil fuel burning continue, it happened a year early because of the record rise in CO2 due to the El Niño.”


Prof. Martin Siegert, Co-Director of the Grantham Institute, Imperial College London, said:

“The announcement from WMO is shocking but sadly unsurprising. It reveals three things.

“It shows that humans are having a detrimental impact on climate and extreme weather in ways that have been predicted consistently over the past few decades by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.  It shows that the need for action on greenhouse gas emissions, as agreed at the Paris COP15 meeting in December 2015, remains critical.  It shows that we are on the wrong path at present if we are to restrict warming to 2C – let alone 1.5C – above pre-industrial levels by the end of the century.

“Although the figures published are influenced by the El Niño event, they provide a stark lesson to us that attempts so far at curtailing global warming have not yet succeeded.  We simply cannot say we haven’t been warned, however.  The problem is ours to fix and we must do so right now.  The longer we wait for effective action the harder and more costly it will be.”


Dr Emily Shuckburgh, Deputy Head of Polar Oceans at the British Antarctic Survey , said:

“2016 was exceptional from a climate perspective and the Arctic stood out as experiencing particularly extreme conditions. During winter the region saw the polar equivalent of a searing heatwave, with temperatures in January breaking previous records by a staggering 2.0° C.  Arctic sea-ice extent also reached record-breaking levels, with the year as a whole showing the smallest ice coverage in the 38-year satellite record.

“Scientific understanding leads us to expect the Arctic to warm more than elsewhere – something known as Arctic Amplification – and data records show Arctic temperatures are increasing at double the global rate.

“The Arctic may be remote, but changes that occur there directly affect us. The melting of the Greenland icesheet is already contributing significantly to sea level rise, and new research is highlighting that the melting of Arctic sea ice can alter weather conditions across Europe, Asia and North America.

“The changes we are now seeing in the polar regions are a stark reminder of the scale and urgency of the climate challenge.”


 Prof. Sir Robert Watson FRS, Director of Strategic Development at the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, University of East Anglia, said:

“While the data show an ever increasing impact of human activities on the climate system, the Trump Administration and senior Republicans in Congress continue to bury their heads in the sand and state that climate change is a hoax and does not need to be addressed.  We are now living in an evidence-free world, where facts are irrelevant.

“Our children and grandchildren will look back on the climate deniers and ask how they could have sacrificed the planet for the sake of cheap fossil fuel energy when the cost of inaction exceeds the cost of a transition to a low-carbon economy.

“How much more evidence does the world need to recognize the dangers confronting our society?  The pledges of the Paris agreement are inadequate to limit human-induced climate change to 2 degrees C, and need to be strengthened significantly – there is no time to lose.”


Dr Jeffrey Kargel, Glaciologist at the University of Arizona, said:

“News from the WMO, reporting new high global temperatures, new minimum Arctic sea ice coverage, and other new extremes, may seem like a broken record – but that’s just the point. One new broken record after another: global warming on land and sea and other big effects across the Earth’s surface.  Weather oscillations are also involved – this was emphasized in a recent report on Arctic sea ice reductions.  Global climate change also involves increased weather extremes, changes in ocean circulation, and other drastic effects to Earth.  These changes directly impact people.

“In my research area of glacier studies, changing climate and changing glaciers are affecting the formation for glacial lakes and the propensity of glaciers to unleash sudden immense flash floods, called glacial lake outburst floods, which can devastate villages and infrastructure.  In some arid lands where glaciers are a chief source of fresh water, people are rightfully concerned about the loss of their water.

“People on the street around the world know that our planet is changing and they hear about it on the news or experience it first hand on every continent. The rise in temperatures taken alone can be bad, or might even be welcome, depending on where one lives.  Here in hot, dry Arizona, climate change is not helpful – we don’t need hotter and drier weather brought by global warming.

“Earth is a planet in upheaval due to human-caused changes in the atmosphere. In general, drastically changing conditions do not help civilization, which thrives on stability. Continued climate change will inevitably be in the news for at least another century.  The positive side is that people have an opportunity to reduce the future trajectory of climate change.  However, improvement in our outlook won’t happen all by itself. We have to change, and our leaders must come face to face with reality and understand that their decisions will affect the future for better or worse.  Every nation has a role to play in easing our dilemma and moving us away from worst-case scenarios.”


Prof. Dave Reay, Chair in Carbon Management at the University of Edinburgh, said:

“The Guinness Book of World Records now needs a whole new chapter for climate change. From soaring temperatures and carbon dioxide concentrations, to disintegrating ice and coral this new report on global change over the past year makes startling reading.

“The need for concerted action on climate change has never been so stark nor the stakes so high. With the Paris climate agreement we have a real shot at avoiding the extremes of 2016 becoming the new normal.”


Prof. Andrew Challinor, Professor of Climate Impacts at the University of Leeds, said:

“The trend in extremes continues – as anyone shopping for salads and veg earlier this year will know. This new evidence comes just days after parliament discussed the independent report they commissioned on the implications of climate change for UK food security. Current government strategy emphasises the ability of markets to even out price fluctuations and ensure food supply. The independent report emphasises the need for more joined up thinking across governments and internationally.”


* WMO Statement on the State of the Global Climate in 2016 will be published on Tuesday 21 March 2017.


Declared interests

None declared

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