Still from WMO interactive map on weather and climate events in 2018. The information on this map is based on contribution from National Meteorological and Hydrological Services of WMO Members.

Global state of the climate 2018 – Expert Reaction

The physical signs and socio-economic impacts of climate change are accelerating according to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). 

In their 2018 State of the Global Climate report, they say 2018 saw record sea level rise and exceptionally high land and ocean temperatures over the past four years, continuing the warming trend observed over the past two decades.

The statement also covers climate impacts on human populations over the past year, such as at climate hazards, displacements and food security. The WMO also produced an interactive global map showing major weather and climate events for 2018.

The SMC asked experts to comment, feel free to use these comments in your reporting.

Professor James Renwick, climate scientist and Head of the VUW School of Geography, Environment and Earth Sciences, comments:

“The 25th annual State of the Climate report from the WMO is an excellent and accessible summary, but it makes for sobering reading. Carbon dioxide concentrations are at record levels, ocean heat content and sea levels are both at record highs, sea ice extent is well below normal in both hemisphere, glaciers and ice sheets are melting. On and on in the now-familiar litany of all the ways the climate is warming and changing around us. Even more worrying is the range of associated extreme weather events and impacts on human populations. World hunger is on the rise and we are now talking of millions of people displaced as a result of weather and climate extremes.

“Ecosystems are being affected worldwide, on land and in the oceans, where acidification is associated with rising temperatures and loss of dissolved oxygen. The record heat in New Zealand and the Tasman Sea during summer 2017/18 is an example of what we can expect much more of in future years. With no action on climate change, that record warm summer in New Zealand would be counted as a cold summer in another 50 years. The associated increases in climate and weather extremes would displace hundreds of millions and would threaten the fabric of societies everywhere.

“The globe is currently running a temperature of about 1°C above pre-industrial levels. To rein in the warming at no more than 1.5°C above pre-industrial, global emissions need to halve by 2030, and go to zero by 2050. Yet, emissions increased to record levels in 2018! Policy-makers must really take on board that climate change is an existential threat to global society, to the global economy, and to all ecosystems on earth. I hope the planned United Nations Climate Action Summit later this year really galvanises action by governments around the world.”

No conflict of interest.

Gregor Macara, climate scientist, National Institute of Water & Atmospheric Research (NIWA), comments:

“In a week that has seen the highest 48-hour rainfall total ever in New Zealand, it seems fitting that the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) is highlighting the increasing impacts of climate change around the world.

“New Zealand is far from immune and has experienced many of the indicators the WMO has concluded are becoming more pronounced globally.

“These include:

  • New Zealand’s hottest ever month in January 2018 when the mean temperature was 20.3°C, a remarkable 3.1°C above average
  • At New Zealand climate stations over the past six years, for every record or near-record low monthly mean temperature there have been 12 record or near-record highs.
  • A hot March this year – higher temperatures than what it’s usually like in mid to late summer.
  • Marine heatwaves over the past two summers – likely a contributor to this week’s wettest 48 hours on record.
  • A near record 40-day dry spell in Nelson this summer which included significant wildfires.
  • 2018 coming in at NZ’s equal-second warmest year on record [see graph].
Mean annual temperature for New Zealand, calculated from NIWA’s ‘seven-station’ series. This series uses climate data from seven geographically representative locations. The data are adjusted to take account of factors such as different measurement sites (Mullan et al 2010). The blue and red bars show the difference from the 1981-2010 average. The black line is the linear trend over 1909 to 2018 (1.00 ± 0.25°C/100 years). NIWA (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0).

No conflict of interest.

Professor Jim Salinger, Visiting Scholar, Penn State University, comments:

“The 25th Anniversary issue shows hastening climate warming globally. This was true for the New Zealand region, a combined land and marine area of 4 million sq. km (the size of the Indian subcontinent), with the warmest year on 150 years of land and sea records.

“It is very alarming that the carbon dioxide levels reaching a highest 406 ppm – up from 280 ppm in the 19th century, and methane jumping unexpectedly by 25 ppb to a record 1850 ppb by 2017.

“The extra 3.7 mm of sea level rise will be very significant for the coast of Australia, and especially New Zealand with its many seaside urban areas and long coasts.

“The record warm summer ending in February 2019 produced the largest ice loss on the Southern Alps glaciers since the regular end of summer snowline surveys started 42 years ago.

“We’ve seen Queensland Groper in the Bay of Islands, Northland, 3000 km out of range, snapper in Milford Sound in Fiordland, and massive mortality in the aquaculture fisheries of the Marlborough Sounds. These are a harbinger of climate in the latter part of the 20th century if we do not take action to reduce emissions from the combustion of fossil fuels and the production of greenhouse gases from other sources such as waste and agriculture immediately.”

No conflict of interest.

Our colleagues at the Australian Science Media Centre also asked experts to comment.

Dr Liz Hanna, Chair of the Environmental Health Working Group at the World Federation of Public Health Associations, and an Honorary Senior Fellow at the Climate Change Institute, The Australian National University, comments:

“The key word in this report is ‘accelerating’. Impacts are accelerating as global CO2 emissions are again accelerating, they rose 2.7 per cent last year. Rather than offering intelligent respite in this mad trajectory to species suicide, Australia is only making it worse. Excluding the unreliable land use data, Australia’s emissions hit an all-time high last year.

“Acceleration of warming, of heat extremes, fires, drought, damaging storms and sea level rise sends shivers up the spines of the health sector. These rising climate tragedies spell disaster for human lives, human livelihoods, and our collective health and happiness crumble. The health sector is left to pick up the pieces and try to restore health.

“As individuals, humans have a strong survival instinct, it appears that collectively we do not.”Rich countries are not immune to the damage and misery global warming is starting to deliver. While we watch Cyclone Idai devastate three nations in Africa, Australians are still reeling from two synchronous cyclones across the north, swathes of flood damage across drought-stricken Queensland, with heat fires and droughts sending the southern half of Australia into despair. And all this is accelerating!”Conflict of interest statement: None.

Professor Samantha Hepburn, Director of Research and Director of the Centre for Energy and Natural Resource Law, Deakin University, comments:

“This report makes it very clear that the impacts of climate change are accelerating.  We know that if the current trajectory for greenhouse gas concentrations continues, temperatures may increase by 3 – 5 degrees celsius compared to pre-industrial levels by the end of the century and we have already reached 1 degree celsius.

The 20 warmest years on record have been in the past 22 years, 2018 was the fourth warmest year on record, ocean heat content is at a record high, global mean sea levels continue to rise, Arctic and Antarctic ice content have been severely diminished, extreme weather patterns have impacted life in every continent and imperil sustainable practices and global emission reduction targets have not been met.

Clearly, the soft law processes of international law have not been effective in addressing this profound threat to humanity.  Domestic regulatory and policy frameworks across the world must take immediate, strong and direct action to stem the growth of global carbon emissions.

In addition to pricing carbon and accelerating the trajectory of renewable energy, there are many multi-dimensional options that may work. These include climate accession agreements, bottom-up approaches, green clubs and strategies grounded in behavioural science.

Responding to climate change is fundamentally a legacy decision. It connects to our global intergenerational responsibilities.  Even if we do manage to reduce emissions by 2020, the global average temperature will rise for many decades and sea levels will continue to rise. The benefits of near-term emissions will therefore not be apparent for decades. But this is our moral imperative.

In the words of Obama, ‘Someday our children and our children’s children will look us in the eye and ask us did we do all we could, when we had the chance, to leave a cleaner, safer world? And I want to be able to say yes.”

Conflict of interest statement: None.