December temperatures in London have been warmer than July’s. Scotland is balmier than Barcelona. Artificial snow covers European ski slopes. Africa faces its worst food crisis in a generation as floods and droughts strike vulnerable countries.
According to the UK Met Office, the exceptional warmth in Britain and northern continental Europe is linked to the strongest El Niño ever recorded. “What we are experiencing is typical of an early winter El Niño effect,” said Adam Scaife, head of Met Office long- range forecasting.
Worldwide, November was the warmest recorded by the US government’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the seventh month in a row where temperatures have been well above the 100-year average; 2015 is on track to be the warmest year and last week the Met Office forecast that the global average temperature in 2016 would be a record 1.14C above pre-industrial temperatures.
The relentless rise in global temperatures is sharpest of all in the far north of the planet. This is the clear message from the annual Arctic Report Card published last week by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Sea Ice cover in the Arctoc has dramatically reduced. – 29% less this year than the average between 1981 and 2000 – and it seems the Artioc is warming twice as fast as the rest of the planet. And sea levels are rising at an alarming rate – with the IPCC predicting rises of between 70cm and 98cm – but with Antarctic melting too this could be well over a metre. Devastating for low lying islands and shorelines as diverse as the Mekong delta to Miami Beach.
The effects are already being seen worldwide, and nowhere more dramatically than in east and southern Africa, which is most vulnerable to climate change and extreme droughts. The El Niño effect has shifted rainfall patterns and led to severe drought. After years of good harvests and relative food security, Africa faces one of its biggest food emergencies in a generation with Ethiopia, Malawi, Eritrea, Somalia, Zimbabwe and other southern and east African countries all needing emergency food aid within weeks.
“The projections across Africa are shocking; 39 million people are expected to be affected,” said a spokeswoman for the UK Department for International Development. “Around 3.5 million people in Africa could also be affected by floods and subsequent disease epidemics. The situation in Ethiopia is particularly worrying, with 18 million people projected to require food assistance in the coming months.”
This month the UN World Food Programme said 2.8 million people in Malawi needed urgent food aid as shortages had more than doubled food prices from 2014 levels. This year, it said, southern Africa’s cereal harvest fell by almost a quarter, down to 34 million tonnes.
The widespread El Niño effects are being felt in Latin America as well as Indonesia and Papua New Guinea, where it has led to some of the worst forest fires in decades. In Central America, one of the most severe droughts on record has led to 3.5 million people in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador needing food aid. The UN says that more than two million people have been affected in Peru and Ecuador.
Indonesia will have less water to run hydro-electic power generation which will effect the production of nickel. Australia will face severe drought and forest fires. India will experience smaller rice yields due to a reduced monsoon. Wetter weather may lead to copper mines flooding in Chile whilst the coffee harvest in Brazil may be disrupted.
The warm Pacific temperatures have also led to a record number of hurricanes and cyclones. According to the US government’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Earth Observatory, there were 18 named storms in 2015, including 13 hurricanes, nine of which were category three or higher. This is the greatest number on record since reliable measurements started in 1971.