"There is no standstill in global warming," declared Michel Jarraud, secretary general of the World Meteorological Organization, as the United Nations agency presented climate negotiators with confirmation that 2014 seems destined to be the hottest year ever recorded.
He called it "particularly unusual and alarming" that extreme temperatures are being recorded over large ocean areas, a fact that may mean the trend will persist into next year as well.
Even though the data for the final weeks of the year are not yet in, the WMO presented its findings in Lima, where negotiators from around the world are gathering to draft a global climate treaty to be finalized in Paris at the end of next year.
One record-hot year does not define a trend any more than one sparrow makes a spring, but the past three hottest years were in 2010, 2005 and 1998, the big El Nino year. This year almost certainly will be in the top four. In any case, each of the past three decades was warmer than the one before. Fourteen of the 15 warmest years on record were in the 21st century, and a whole generation has come to adulthood without ever experiencing a single month that was cooler than the previous normal.
Comparing January to October this year using three different data sets from agencies in Great Britain and the United States, 2014 tied with 2010 as the hottest. If the patterns from the first 10 months of this year persisted in November, and continue in December, 2014 will be the hottest ever. The differences are vanishingly small—a few hundredths of a degree—but the long-term trend is hard to deny.
"All of this information is crucial to the negotiators to understand that nature is not waiting," said R. D. J. Lengoasa, the WMO's deputy secretary-general, at a news conference in Lima.
"The extremes that were projected are indeed becoming reality," he said.
"What we saw in 2014 is consistent with what we expect from a changing climate," said Jarraud. "Record-breaking heat combined with torrential rainfall and floods destroyed livelihoods and ruined lives."
He added: "Record-high greenhouse gas emissions and associated atmospheric concentrations are committing the planet to a much more uncertain and inhospitable future."
Here's what the data show:
Average surface air temperatures over land for January to October 2014 were about 0.86°C above the 1961-1990 average, the fourth- or fifth-warmest for the same period on record.
Global sea-surface temperatures were the highest on record, at about 0.45°C above the 1961-1990 average.
Arctic sea-ice extent reached its annual minimum extent of 5.02 million km2 on September 17 and was the sixth-lowest on record, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center.
The graph below shows annual temperature records in relation to the norm of the three decades from 1960-1990: