Will NASA's measurements finally silence the climate sceptics?
It is rare for serious climate scientists to treat one month's data as conclusive evidence of anything, but in this case the dramatic and surprising scale of the temperature anomaly has caused some climate watchers to sound a note of alarm. This is partly because it follows on from a string of observations in 2015, itself a record year, which had already suggested that any temporary hiatus in warming, if it ever existed, was now at an end.
“We are in a kind of climate emergency now,” Stefan Rahmstorf of the Potsdam Institute of Climate Impact Research told the Sydney Morning Herald. “Governments have promised to act [to curb greenhouse gas emissions] and they need to do better than what they promised in Paris.”
The proximate cause for the dramatic rise in temperatures in 2015 and 2016 is the latest el Nino climate event. Even so the latest numbers suggest a rise, compared to the 1998 el Nino temperature spike, of about 0.45 degrees Centigrade. Climate sceptics have made much of the apparent "slowdown" or hiatus in warming since 1998, frequently claiming that there has been little or no increase in observed warming since 2000.
So will the climate sceptics finally admit reality?
One of the strongest and most professionally organised sceptic groups has been the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF), closely associated with former UK Chancellor Nigel Lawson, and with a large number of prominent climate sceptics on its Academic Advisory Council. These include academic and other figures prominent in the public debate such as Robert Carter, Ross McKitrick, Freeman Dyson, Richard Lindzen, Matt Ridley and others. Elsewhere on this site we present a summary of the positions taken by a number of GWPF authors, including those named above, in responding to the Royal Society on the subject of climate change, and a personal critique and summary of the positions taken by both parties. The prominence of these authors means that we are looking at the work of the most serious sceptics, presumably chosen from the GWPF's top academic support in order to argue the sceptic case.
It is very apparent from this critique that the GWPF authors rely heavily on the supposed hiatus in warming. In terms of hard evidence it has been their central claim. This was always evidence of dubious quality, relying on a highly selective "cherry picking" of the time series data. In reality no serious scientist or statistician should have made the kind of claims the GWPF authors have made - averaged data continued to show a steady rise in temperature decade on decade. But it was also in strategic terms a foolish argument on which to place so much weight, since it was always true that the next el Nino was likely to demolish once and for all the spurious notion of a "hiatus". That is what has happened. The frequently repeated claim of an 18 year "pause" looks increasingly foolish in terms of the evidence.
We await the GWPF reaction. Most popular sceptic responses, on the evidence of past behaviour, are retreats to a position that temperature increase will be beneficial or does not matter, on the one hand, or refuge in conspiracy theory, coordinated
How alarming is this? Delayed response and irreversibility.
Paris. Was it enough?
The Paris negotiations have been widely represented as a success, especially in the context of earlier failures. But in the absence of binding commitments it was always clear that real success would then depend on just how much progress the major emitting countries would make without the discipline of a negotiated constraint. The possibility of some dramatic temperature records this year, even if the underlying climate model predictions remain broadly unchanged, may well provoke increased realisation of the gravity of our situation and pressure for more urgent measures.