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2011—Tenth warmest year on record

Published: 
Thursday, December 1, 2011
WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud.

Durban, South Africa

Global temperatures this year are currently the tenth highest on record and are higher than any previous year with a La Niña event, which has a relative cooling influence, according to latest data presented yesterday by the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO). All of the 13 warmest years have occurred in the 15 years since 1997. The extent of Arctic sea ice in 2011 was the second lowest on record, and its volume was the lowest.

These are some of the highlights of the provisional annual World Meteorological Organisation Statement on the Status of the Global Climate, which gives a global temperature assessment and a snapshot of weather and climate events around the world in 2011. The highlights were released on the second day of the 17th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change taking place in Durban, South Africa.

“Our role is to provide the scientific knowledge to inform action by decision-makers. Our science is solid and it proves unequivocally that the world is warming and that this warming is due to human activities,” said WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud. “Concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere have reached new highs. They are very rapidly approaching levels consistent with a 2-2.4 degree Centigrade rise in average global temperatures which scientists believe could trigger far-reaching and irreversible changes in our Earth, biosphere and oceans,” he said.

The WMO’s provisional statement estimated the global combined sea surface and land surface air temperature for 2011 (January–October) at 0.41°C ± 0.11°C (0.74°F ± 0.20°F) above the 1961–1990 annual average of 14.00°C/57.2°F, according to the provisional statement. This is the tenth warmest year since the start of records in 1850. The 2002-2011 period equals 2001-2010 as the warmest decade on record, 0.46°C above the long-term average.

Meanwhile, Germanwatch, which has been publishing Global Climate Risk Index (CRI) for the past seven years, said Pakistan and Guatemala were the countries mostly hit by extreme weather such as flooding and storms in 2010. “Both extraordinary weather extremes in 2010 left their footprint in this year’s Climate Risk Index,” said Sven Harmeling, Team Leader International Climate Policy at Germanwatch and the index’s author. “More than 1500 people died in Pakistan after flooding across the country, causing damages of several billion dollars. These losses moved Pakistan on top of the ranking. 

“A heat wave in Russia has caused more than 50,000 deaths. Many parts of the country were set in flames. This results in Russia ranking fourth in the Index.” Guatemala and Colombia ranked second and third in 2010 after being hit by storms and flooding. Even though the analysis of damages and deaths cannot yet lead to conclusions on the influence of climate change at these events, it does provide a sense of their vulnerability to climate change, said Harmeling. “The findings can be seen as a warning signal to be better prepared for a higher level of extreme weather events. To be prepared for the future, we need to understand our past’s lectures. 

“Unfortunately, the current inadequate promises of the world’s governments to fight climate change will push our limits of preparing for disasters and adaptation. Durban’s climate summit will also be decisive for necessary commitments made by all governments to reverse the global emissions trend,” he said. From 1991 to 2010, there were 710,000 deaths caused by weather extremes, resulting in more than US$2.3 trillion in damage. All of the top ten countries that have been mostly hit by weather extremes during the past 20 years were developing countries. Those include Bangladesh, Myanmar and Honduras.