Experts have declared a state of ‘climate emergency’ following record-breaking high temperatures in February. New data released by Nasa shows that global surface temperatures for February 2016 were 1.35°C higher than February’s average temperature between 1951 and 1980. 2014 and 2015 have seen the hottest annual global temperatures, with the Met Office predicting that 2016 will be even hotter as a whole. The temperature rise is thought to be due to a major El Niño event – which has been the biggest recorded since 1998 – but also highlights the continual effects of greenhouse gas emissions.
The term El Niño describes a naturally occurring climate cycle, in which warm waters from tropical regions of the Pacific Ocean shift towards South America. The phenomenon affects global weather and is thought to have played a part in these historic temperature averages.
However, experts unanimously agree that humanity’s emission of greenhouse gases is the primary cause of the rising temperatures. Released during the burning of fossil fuels, the gases effectively ‘trap’ heat within the Earth’s atmosphere. 2015 also broke the record for the highest level of atmospheric C02 concentrations, confirming the direct impact that human industrialisation has had on the environment.
Pieter Tans, a scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, outlined the gravity of the situation: “CO2 levels are increasing faster than they have in hundreds of thousands of years […] it’s explosive compared to natural processes”.
The UN climate summit in Paris last December culminated in the signing of an agreement which attempted to impose a limit on global temperature increase. World leaders pledged to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions – however this target is becoming increasingly idealistic. Temperatures are forever edging dangerously upwards and the UK government has been criticised for policies that directly oppose the summit’s aims. Specifically, Prime Minister David Cameron controversially announced the retraction of 65 per cent of the financial help for solar panel installation, while passing fracking in England’s national parks.
With 2016 set to become the hottest year on record, rising temperatures, though ideal for early holidaymakers, have potentially catastrophic consequences for the environment.
For example, increased global temperatures have led to record lows for Arctic ice levels, which play a crucial role in maintaining Earth’s temperature. The ice sheets’ surface reflects 80 per cent of sunlight back into space, but when surface levels are reduced, the rays beam directly into the ocean, where they are absorbed and cause a surge in water temperature.
The effects of climate change can be felt around the globe: heat waves across Russia, China and Australia have been reported for the last two years, while also increasing the likelihood of flooding events in the northwest of England.
The rising temperatures bring the realities of global warming closer to home, and act as a reminder of the adverse effects that human industrialisation has on the planet.
Image: Bethany Legg