Climatologists from the University of Hawaii have made a startling claim: In just three decades from now, the coldest year will be warmer than any of the hottest years in the past. The record-breaking heat could be postponed only by radically reducing global carbon emissions. John Dyer in Boston reports.
Left unchecked, climate change will cause temperatures around the world to reach unprecedented highs by the middle of the century, according to a University of Hawaii at Manoa study published last Thursday in the journal Nature. The abrupt and radical change would likely transform the Earth’s ecology, scientists said.
“The coldest year in the future will be warmer than the hottest year in the past,” said Geography Professor Camilo Mora, the lead scientist in the study. The study “The Timing of New Climates” was based on 39 respected climate change models undertaken around the world.
By around 2047, global temperatures on average will be hotter than any year between 2005 and 1860, the study found. “The results shocked us. Regardless of the scenario, changes will be coming soon,” said Mora in a statement. “Within my generation, whatever climate we were used to will be a thing of the past.”
Tropics will be hit first
The tropics are expected to experience the hottest temperatures first. Central Europe will experience the shift around 2050. Northern European countries would see the change by 2066.
The study’s findings in general weren’t a great surprise to climate change specialists. Recently, for example, the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a report that said the past 30 years have been the hottest on record since 1850. The IPCC report also said that global warming appeared to be slowing slightly, but it still warned of rising seas and other problems stemming from higher temperatures.
Many species will disappear
Mora was especially concerned about the tropics, where poorer populations and fragile ecosystems are likely to be less prepared for the higher temperatures they will experience around a decade before the rest of the world. A hotter climate will hurt coral reefs that are the basis of fish populations as well as forests that produce much of mankind’s oxygen. Studies show that coral reefs along the equator are already suffering due to higher temperatures. “I am certain there will be massive biological and social consequences,” he said. “The specifics, I cannot tell you.”
Drastic reduction of CO2 needed
Praise for “The Timing of New Climates” came from a number of scientists who were not involved in the study. “This work demonstrates that we are pushing the ecosystems of the world out of the environment in which they evolved into wholly new conditions that they may not be able to cope with,” said Ken Caldeira, a climate change expert at the Stanford, California-based Carnegie Institution for Science. “Extinctions are likely to result,” said Caldeira. “Some ecosystems may be able to adapt, but for others, such as coral reefs, complete loss of not only individual species but their entire integrity is likely.”
Jane Lubchenco, an Oregon State University professor and former administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, also had high words for the Hawai study, saying that it compared forecasted temperature increases with historical data in a way that lay people can understand. “It connects the dots between climate models and impacts to biodiversity in a stunningly fresh way, and it has sobering ramifications for species and people.”
Despite the dire predictions, Mora added that the record-breaking heat could be postponed by as much as 25 years if mankind undertook serious measures to delay global warming, including reducing global carbon emissions.
But there has been little progress in international efforts to reduce carbon emissions in recent years, however. Negotiations to replace the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which limits carbon emissions from industrialised countries and encourages developing countries to do the same, have largely stalled.