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Climate change and energy

The last five years have been Earth’s warmest since records began

February 7, 2019

2018 was the fourth warmest year since records began in 1880, according to studies out today from NASA, the UK Met Office, and the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Record-breaking: The NASA study found that Earth’s global surface temperature last year was 0.83 °C warmer than the 1951-1980 mean. That temperature was topped only in 2016, 2017, and 2015. The data shows that the last five years are collectively the warmest ever recorded, while 18 of the 19 hottest years have taken place since 2001. The NOAA study, which uses a different methodology, agreed.

Over the long term: Since 1880, Earth has warmed up by about 1 °C, a phenomenon driven largely by humans emitting carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. “We’re no longer talking about a situation where global warming is something in the future. It’s here. It’s now,” Gavin Schmidt, director of the NASA group that conducted the analysis, told the New York Times.

More to come: A separate report from the UK’s Met Office out today also logged 2018 as the fourth warmest year. It predicted that global temperatures will continue to rise over the next five years, with a 10% chance that we’ll breach the mark of 1.5 °C above preindustrial levels.

A reminder: A recent landmark climate report warned that we must keep global warming below 1.5 °C rather than the previously agreed cap of 2 °C to avoid extreme heat, drought, floods, and poverty. The report concluded we have 12 years to make the urgent changes needed to avoid this threshold.

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Illustration by Rose Wong

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