A year ago we heard that 2014 was the warmest year on record. That’s something we can no longer say because 2015 was warmer, and by a wide margin. The increase was one sixth of a kelvin, the largest increase over the previous record climate scientists have ever seen. To put it another way, the one-year increase brings the planet one tenth of the distance to the kind of climate crisis that will cause a global economic catastrophe. The 2016 temperature average was boosted by El Niño conditions in the Pacific Ocean, but climate scientists say that weather pattern accounts for less than half of the increase. There is a distinct trend toward warmer temperatures, with records set for 10 of the 12 months of 2015, and, from NOAA:
Since 1997, which at the time was the warmest year on record, 16 of the subsequent 18 years have been warmer than that year.
Greenhouse gases last for more than a century in the atmosphere, so there is little reason to imagine that climate change can be kept within 2 kelvins of pre-industrial levels, the threshold agreed at the recent climate summit. That probably would not happen even if all fuel-burning activities stopped immediately.
The new reports of global temperature change will further reduce demand for oil and other fossil fuels. Commodities markets responded to the climate news by sending oil prices, already at five-year lows, down another 7 percent. This could be a market overreaction, but there is no doubt that the stark climate numbers will spur faster investment in energy supplies not based on burning fuel, leading to permanent reductions in demand for oil, coal, and other fossil fuels.