The ‘silly season’ has started here, in the northern hemisphere at least, as the latter half of July heralds the start of the main summer vacation season and the emergence of ‘softer’ news stories in the press – often about the weather. But spare a thought for the people of Kuwait, where temperatures reached a record 54°C last week – among the highest ever recorded on the planet.
But that high in Kuwait is part of a much more worrying picture. The world is on track for its hottest year ever this year, along with the highest levels of carbon dioxide ever recorded in the atmosphere, according to the United Nation’s World Meteorological Organisation (WMO). June 2016 marked the 14th consecutive month of record heat for land and oceans; the last month to record a temperature lower than the 20th century average was December 1984.
And, while the 2015/2016 El Niño event was partly responsible for recent record highs, that event has now ended, while: ‘climate change, caused by heat-trapping greenhouse gases, will not’, says the WMO.
Data for the first half of this year is so dramatic that fellow weather-watcher NASA says that while 2015 was a very warm year: ‘2016 really has blown that out of the water.’ Along with temperatures, global carbon dioxide levels are soaring – the WMO says that concentrations passed the symbolic 400 parts-per-million threshold earlier this year and showed a surprising increase for the first half of this year.
I have included this climate and greenhouse gas news here first because the latest data is so dramatic, but also because the growing use of decentralized energy – much of this having an inherently lower carbon footprint than old-style central power plants using fossil fuels – is playing a part in at least slowing down the growth of greenhouse gas emissions.
Indeed, in some developed parts of the world greenhouse gas emission rates have started to fall slightly in recent years, partly due to a tendency towards lower carbon power generation. 2014 emissions in the EU were down 4% on the previous year, and were almost a quarter lower than those from 1990. But that means that, even in greenish Europe, annual carbon emissions to the atmosphere were still huge – smaller than those from last year but still huge – and atmospheric concentrations are still rising.
And, if we don’t want to fry the planet, unsustainably so.