Science says temperatures of more than 50C are coming to Australia

Photo: William West/AFP/Getty Images

This year will be one of the top three hottest on record, with record-breaking extreme weather, according to the World Meteorological Organisation’s (WMO) provisional Statement on the State of the Climate.

The WMO also says long-term signs of climate change, such as growing carbon dioxide concentrations, sea level rise and ocean acidification, continue.

Arctic sea ice coverage is still below average and the previously stable Antarctic sea ice extent is at or near a record low.

It is very likely 2017 will be one of the three hottest years on record, with many high-impact events including catastrophic hurricanes and floods, debilitating heatwaves and drought.

The average global temperature from January to September 2017 was approximately 1.1°C above the pre-industrial era, as this chart shows:

As a result of a powerful El Niño, 2016 is likely to remain the warmest year on record, with 2017 and 2015 being second or third. 2013-2017 is expected to be the warmest five years on record.

The WMO statement was released on the opening day of the United Nations climate change conference in Bonn.

Australian experts say the latest data is alarming.

Pep Canadell, executive director of the Global Carbon Project, CSIRO Marine and Atmospheric Research, says it’s significant that temperatures haven’t returned to pre-El Niño yet, 1.5 years after it ended.

“Although we don’t know all the details as to why, the human interference of the climate system has never been so clearly manifested as the background global temperature continues to rise in response to greenhouse gas emissions,” says Dr Canadell.

Liz Hanna, an Honorary Senior Fellow at the Climate Change Institute at the ANU, says global atmospheric CO2 levels are now 46% higher than pre-industrial levels.

“This escalation of warming should be sending alarm bells to all Australians, as Australia is over 10C hotter than the global average, and there is an upper limit to human tolerance to heat,” says Dr Hanna.

“This extra warming brings more frequent, longer and more intense heat waves.

“Temperatures over 50C are coming, and we simply cannot keep functioning in such temperatures where we cannot move and cannot work without overheating.

“Air-conditioning can only ever provide limited relief, and only to some. Trees, animals and people all wilt in the heat.”

Dr Hanna says the warming should prompt a surge in effort to ramp up Australia’s mitigation efforts, transitioning to renewable energy.

“Most importantly, this should further finally stop support for expanding our coal industry,” she says.

“A government that truly represents the nation must prioritise health protection. It is unconscionable to knowingly sacrifice health and wellbeing.”

WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas the past three years have all been in the top three years in terms of temperature records.

“We have witnessed extraordinary weather, including temperatures topping 50 degrees Celsius in Asia, record-breaking hurricanes in rapid succession in the Caribbean and Atlantic reaching as far as Ireland, devastating monsoon flooding affecting many millions of people and a relentless drought in East Africa,” says Taalas.

“Many of these events — and detailed scientific studies will determine exactly how many — bear the tell-tale sign of climate change caused by increased greenhouse gas concentrations from human activities.”

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