February’s record warmth: nasty weather for the time of year

February’s record warmth: nasty weather for the time of year

“Normally I don’t comment on individual months,” tweeted Gavin Schmidt of Nasa on Sunday. “Too much weather, not enough climate. But last month was special.” And so it was: February’s global surface temperature was 1.35C warmer than the average temperature for the month between 1951-1980, a bigger margin than ever seen before.

In the pressing confusion of world affairs, civil war, refugees, terrorism and even the workings of democracy, it can be hard to keep a focus on even greater long-term threats. Yet the consequences of climate change – sometimes drought, sometimes extreme weather events – already contribute to political instability, to pushing hard lives over the border into intolerable, fuelling the great flows of humanity across continents.

Sceptics hide behind El Niño’s unusual warming effect, but climate scientists estimate it can play only a small role. With February as well as January setting new records, the nearly 200 countries that signed up to national targets for the reduction of carbon emissions in Paris last December surely need look no further for reasons to ratchet up their ambitions. Indeed, most experts hold that the Paris aspiration to keep warming to 1.5C rather than 2C is already beginning to look as if it is too little, too late.

The US, still the leading carbon emitter among the larger nations if units per capita are counted, is stuttering in the right direction under the leadership of President Barack Obama, who has made action on climate change a legacy issue – on Tuesday the possibility of drilling in Arctic waters was tightly restricted to “science-based standards” in a significant deal struck with Canada’s prime minister Justin Trudeau. But only one of the Republican candidates in the race to succeed the president – the outsider John Kasich – accepts that global warming has a significant man-made element, while Hillary Clinton’s bald commitment this week that she would put “a lot of miners and a lot of coal companies out of business” will have gone down well in Florida where rising sea levels are a reality, but not so much among the Donald Trump-leaning blue-collar workers in the midwest.

Against this background, the stalling and reverses of the UK government, which has killed off at least nine different green policies in less than a year, can look like the small change of a global crisis. But Britain has played an important role in the world’s attempts to negotiate a way through to a sustainable deal, a role it will struggle to play in the future. A small cheer, then, for the announcement on Monday that there would be legislation to enact a zero-carbon emissions target. Yet the pledge was made by a government with a well-established record for preferring style over substance and during the debate on the latest energy bill, which ends onshore wind and solar subsidies, restricts those for offshore wind and boosts long-term support for North Sea oil and gas. As the former energy secretary Ed Davey observed, the Conservatives seem determined to cross out all the options for promoting renewables. Meanwhile, the ambitious plan for the Hinkley Point C nuclear reactor, on which all current carbon emission reduction targets depend, looks increasingly fragile. The longer it is protected, the harder it will be to replace its output in time. The chancellor might yet surprise in Wednesday’s budget with creative new ideas. But probably don’t count on it.

 

Source: The Guardian

Date: March 2016

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