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expert reaction to data suggesting the earth is in its warmest period on record

Reactions to data published by the UK Met Office suggesting the earth is in its warmest period on record.

Prof William Collins, Professor of Meteorology at the University of Reading, said:

“There is a lot of excitement and newspaper headlines when a particular year has broken a record and more excitement when the following year fails to. However individual years aren’t useful for understanding the progress of climate change, rather we need to look at decades. Every decade since the 1970s has been clearly significantly warmer than the last and this research from the Met Office forecasts that this trend will continue for the decade 2014 to 2023. These decadal trends therefore show that the warming of the globe is unequivocal.”

Prof Rowan Sutton, Director of Science (Climate) for the National Centre for Atmospheric Science (NCAS), University of Reading, said:

“The evolution of climate on timescales of several years is influenced by a combination of the long-term warming caused by rising levels of greenhouse gases, and shorter term ups and downs caused by natural fluctuations, particularly in the oceans.  The Met Office has been a pioneer in developing capabilities to forecast how these factors combine to shape climate several years ahead, but these capabilities are still at an early stage of research and development, and the new forecast should be seen in this context.”

“The Met Office forecast for 2019-2023 is broadly in line with the 2013 assessment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Over the last decade climate has warmed rapidly, reaching more than 1 degree C above nineteenth century levels in the record warm years 2015 and 2016.  The Met Office forecast suggests that over the next 5 years the high temperatures seen recently are likely to be sustained and that further warming may well occur, perhaps reaching new record levels for annual average temperatures. “

Dr Joeri Rogelj, Lecturer in Climate Change and Environment at the Grantham Institute, Imperial College London, said:

“International temperature targets are defined as long-term averages of global temperatures, typically averaged over a period of 30 years. Exceeding 1.5°C in one given year does hence not mean that the 1.5°C goal has been breached and can be discarded. Actually, this is precisely what we expect when approaching a global warming limit of 1.5°C.

“In a world in which we have managed to limit global warming to 1.5°C, we expect that noisy year-to-year variations in global temperatures result in measured global temperatures exceeding 1.5°C in 1 out of 2 years. Exceeding 1.5°C of in one specific year does therefore not mean that we have missed the 1.5°C target, but it does ring an alarm bell telling us that we are getting very close. In similar way, if a few colder years would be projected this does not mean that warming has halted and that we can emit much more greenhouse gases. The noise in the annual temperatures should not distract from the long-term trend. “

Prof Sir Brian Hoskins, Chair of the Grantham Institute, Imperial College London, said:

“Our lack of decisive action over climate change makes us like a climber ascending a mountain, knowing that there will not be enough oxygen at some height, yet still we go on.  Not every individual step takes us nearer disaster, but as confirmed by the Met Office, our general direction is clear.”

Dr Anna Jones, atmospheric chemist at the British Antarctic Survey, said:

“The forecast from the Met Office is, unfortunately, no surprise. Temperatures averaged across the globe are at a record all-time high, and have been for a number of years. They are driven predominantly by rising concentrations of greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide, that result from our continued use of fossil fuels. Until we reduce greenhouse gas emissions, we can expect to see upward trends in global averaged temperatures.”

Declared interests

Prof Sutton: NCAS has a range of collaborations with the Met Office, including in the area of decadal climate prediction. Rowan Sutton will soon hold a non-salaried Visiting Scientist position in the Met Office.

No others received. 

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