Experts respond to a decade of ‘exceptional’ global heat

  Last updated December 9, 2019 at 4:01 pm


The World Meteorological Organization warns we are “nowhere near on track” to meet the Paris Agreement target – and the experts agree.

emissions_global heat_hot weather

An orange sky over Perth as a result of a bushfire. Credit: Jennifer A Smith

Why This Matters: The Earth keeps heating and we’re driving faster than natural levels.

The last decade is on course to be the warmest year on record, according to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), with 2019 also tipped to also be either the second or third hottest year.

According to the WMO’s provisional State of the Global Climate statement, in 2019 the world was on average about 1.1 degrees hotter than the pre-industrial period.

If we don’t take urgent action there will be impacts on human wellbeing

“If we do not take urgent climate action now, then we are heading for a temperature increase of more than 3°C by the end of the century, with ever more harmful impacts on human wellbeing,” says WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas. “We are nowhere near on track to meet the Paris Agreement target.”

Also: Rising temperatures are a big risk to our health

Australian scientists agree.

“Governments and individuals need to act swiftly,” says Pete Strutton from the University of Tasmania.

“There is no way for Earth to stay below 3°C without large scale emissions capture and storage, in addition to massive emissions reduction.”

The news came just as data from the latest Global Carbon Budget was released showing that carbon emissions are also set to reach a new peak in 2019.

By the end of 2019 carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels are expected to reach 36.8 billion tons, despite a drop in emissions from coal.

According to Global Carbon Budget report author Pep Canadell from CSIRO: “Every single additional year of emissions growth it makes it significantly harder achieving the goals of the Paris achievement.”

The growth in emissions is slowing

However, he says there is a ‘better part of the bad news”; the growth in emissions is slowing.

Emissions from fossil fuels grew just 0.6 per cent in 2019, about a third of the growth rate we have seen over the previous years.

The US and EU led the way, recording a 1.7 per cent drop in emissions. Emissions from India are set to rise by 1.8 per cent in 2019 however this is a vast improvement on the 8 per cent rise they saw in 2018. China’s emissions continued to grow by 2.6 per cent in 2019, a rate similar to growth over the previous two years.

In Australia emissions from 2018 to 2019 have essentially flatlined, according to ANU’s Frank Jotzo, with only a 0.1 per cent decrease, to June 2019.

Also: Cutting our own emissions isn’t enough – it’s our exports that matter too

“Australia mirrors what we see in most developed countries, so a transition in the energy sector away from fossil fuels and towards renewables,” says Jotzo. “Where we differ is that obviously we’re a large resource economy and resource exporter.”

Globally, coal emissions decreased while oil increased, but it is the growth in emissions from natural gas that showed the biggest increase. They have been growing steadily and almost uninterrupted for over half a century, and have a projected growth of 2.6 per cent in 2019.

“The natural gas growth, it is actually the single most important driver of this year’s growth in global CO2 emissions,” says Canadell.

The Amazon fires and other deforestation activity appear to also have had an impact with land use changes helping to drive total carbon emissions from human activities to 43.1 billion tons.

Click here to read the full AusSMC Expert Reaction to the WMO report.

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About the Author

Lyndal Byford
Lyndal is the Director of News and Partnerships at the Australian Science Media Centre. She spends her days turning complex science papers into tasty morsels to help news journalists cover science. Lyndal has an Honours Degree in Biotechnology from Flinders University and a Graduate Diploma in Science Communication from the Australian National University. She has spent the last 20 years communicating science in a range of settings including science museums, within the pharmaceutical industry and in media relations both here and in the UK. Lyndal regularly speaks about science on ABC Radio National and 2CC in Canberra. Lyndal was also a member of Inspiring Australia’s Science and the Media Expert working group for the Federal Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research.

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The Australian Science Media Centre (AusSMC) is an independent, not-for-profit service for the news media, giving journalists direct access to evidence-based science and expertise. We aim to better inform public debate on the major issues of the day by improving links between the media and the scientific community. The Centre works with journalists to help them cover science as well as identify the science angles in everyday news stories and works with the scientific community to help them interact more effectively with the media and ensure that their voices are heard on issues of national importance.

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