Warmest decade on record – Experts respond

wmo_logo_for_images.jpgThe World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) — the UN’s weather bureau — has released its statement on the state of global climate from 2000-2009 in a press conference at climate negotiations in Copenhagen. Measurements indicate that 2009 is among the top 5 warmest years, and that the past decade has been the warmest on record.

Read the full statement here.

Prof Martin Manning, Director of NZ Climate Change Research Institute at Victoria University of Wellington, comments:

“This is an important statement for the WMO to make. Given the amount of criticism that has been aimed recently at one of the groups doing careful summaries of temperature data, it shows that our knowledge of the increasing global temperatures is widespread and certainly not reliant on any individual organisation.

“The NZ CCRI put out a preliminary statement on recent global warming in October saying that this decade would be warmer than the last decade by 0.16 to 0.17 degC – and that seven of the ten warmest years on record are in this decade. That is now confirmed.

“This update on recent global temperatures shows that those arguing that there was a peak in temperatures in the 1990s are not making a balanced interpretation of the available data.

“The WMO statement also points out the increasing seriousness of extreme weather around the world. The number of extreme events is increasing and leading to a growing realisation that continuing climate change will bring negative impacts.”

Dr Jim Salinger, an Auckland-based climate scientist and president of the World Meteorological Organization’s Commission for Agricultural Meteorology comments:

“The observations from the World Meteorological Organisation shows that climate warming continues with likely the fifth warmest year on record, and the third lowest summer Arctic sea ice on record. New Zealand observations are consistent and show continuing increase in New Zealand temperatures over the last few decades, and further loss of the permanent snow and ice in the Southern Alps.”

Dr James Renwick, Principal Scientist NIWA National Climate Centre, comments:

“My take is that it is a very good overview of the state of the global climate in 2009, something that has only become possible to do in close to real-time since the advent of comprehensive satellite (and other) observing systems.

“Understanding how the climate system is varying and changing is critically dependent on such monitoring systems, and climate system observing should be a top priority for all national funding agencies. The climate in 2009 show a mix of events, underlining the effects of climate extremes upon humanity, from the Victorian bush fires, to drought in China, and heat waves in Europe and India. The climate change signal is clear, with the current decade coming in warmer than the 1990s, which were warmer than the 1980s. Continued monitoring, prediction, and adaptation/preparedness are crucial.”

Dr Dave Lowe, Adjunct Professor of atmospheric chemistry, Antarctic Research Centre, Victoria University of Wellingon and Director of LOWENZ Ltd comments:

“Climate data including temperature records vary greatly both regionally and in time. Hence 1998 for example remains a record warm year despite many years of data taken since then. A lot of this variation however can be smoothed out by decadal averaging and I think the telling aspect of this analysis from the WMO is that each successive decadal temperature average is higher than the last. Allied to this is the extraordinary extent of ice melt in the Arctic. This is fully consistent with the hypothesis of extra heat in the Earth system being trapped by increasing amounts of greenhouse gases released by industrial and agricultural processes.”

Our colleagues at the Australian and UK SMCs have compiled additional commentary below:

Professor Tim Flannery is Professor of Environmental and Life Sciences at Macquarie University, Chairman of the Copenhagen Climate Council and Australian of the Year (2007), comments:

“A central plank of the climate sceptics’ creed has been that the Earth has been cooling since 1998. They have misled many, and damaged public policy as a result. Here is the definitive proof that they are wrong. Unfortunately the warming trend continues, and will continue as long as greenhouse gas concentrations continue to grow”.

Professor Andy Pitman is Joint Director of the Climate Change Research Centre a the University of NSW, comments:

“Given we are in a period of low solar activity, and have been through a sustained La Nina, 2009 should have been a cool year. The fact it ranked in the top 5 since 1850 is actually frightening. The heatwaves in NSW, Victoria and South Australia that occurred in 2009 are also frightening and do not bode well for 2010 and beyond”.

Prof Sir Brian Hoskins, Director of the Grantham Institute for Climate Change at Imperial College London, said:

“The announcements today emphasise the broader picture of a warming planet.  Individual years can be warmer or colder than the last, just like individual days.  However when we look at decades the warming trend is striking. Each decade since the 1950s has been warmer than the previous one.  The ‘noughties’ stand out as being by far the warmest decade since temperatures were first measured.”

Professor Mark Maslin, Director of the UCL Environment Institute, said:

“The weight of scientific evidence for manmade climate change is now irrefutable.  Data from two of the world’s most respected scientific organisations, the Met office and WMO, show that this is the warmest decade that humanity has ever recorded and that 2009 is the fifth warmest year on record.  Combine this data with scientific evidence collected from satellites showing the retreat of arctic sea ice, the retreat of nearly all the world’s glaciers and even the evidence from the great British public that spring is now arriving two weeks earlier than it did 30 years ago, and climate change is shown to be incontrovertible.  It is now up to the negotiators and politicians at Copenhagen to best decide how we manage climate change and protect their people.”

Prof James Crabbe, Professor of Biochemistry at the University of Bedfordshire, said:

“These are important statements, in accord with modelling studies, and reflect the global situation.  Such modelling shows that if greenhouse gases are not limited very significantly, then coral reef ecosystems will disappear by the end of the century. This will have major impacts, not just on the billion people who rely on the reefs for their day to day livelihoods, but on us all.

“It is crucial for marine and terrestrial ecosystems that sharing of global resources to tackle climate change is agreed in Copenhagen.”

Dr Chris Huntingford, Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, said:

“At the very heart of the global warming issue are basic rules of physics, which tell us that as levels of greenhouse gases increase, they interact with the global energy balance of the planet so as to make it warmer. That the last decade is the warmest on record is in full agreement with what the fundamental science is telling us.

“It is not an exaggeration to say that, should such warming continue in to the future, we could reach a situation where dangerous and irreversible change occurs to the climate system.  This would have serious repercussions, not least affecting food and water security for many regions of the world.”

Dr Simon Harrison, Chair of the IET Energy Sector Panel, said:

“Care needs to be taken looking at just the last ten years’ data in something as complex as climate change, but this data reinforces arguments that climate change is real and the energy sector needs to respond.  Delivery of a low carbon energy system in the UK and around the world is a pressing priority and an immense challenge.  We will also need to take seriously the need to adapt energy infrastructure to deal with more extreme and uncertain weather.  Rising to these challenges will create fabulous opportunities for rewarding careers in engineering, with a real chance to make a difference to peoples’ lives everywhere.”