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2016 Temperatures Already Pushing COP21 Limits

By Climate Central

Coming off of the hottest year on record globally, international leaders met last week in New York to sign the historic Paris Climate Agreement. The agreement endeavors to limit planetary warming by “holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C (3.8°F) above preindustrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C (2.7°F).” However, if the first three months of 2016 are any indication, meeting that challenge will be increasingly difficult.

Globally, calculations from both NOAA and NASA indicate that the first three months of 2016 are each more than 1°C above each agency’s baseline average. NOAA uses the 20th century average temperature, and NASA uses the average temperature from 1951-80. Climate Central has combined the NOAA and NASA temperature data and recalculated the numbers relative to an earlier baseline, 1881-1910, for the global average temperature.

This new baseline provides a clearer view of how much temperatures have risen compared to pre-industrial levels and better represents the state of global temperature with respect to the goals set forward by the Paris Climate Agreement.

Using this method, the NASA/NOAA data indicate that the period of January-March was 1.48°C (2.66°F) above that 1881-1910 baseline. That’s easily the hottest three-month stretch on record for the planet and dangerously close to the numbers in the Paris Agreement goals.

During that three-month stretch, February stands out as the first month in recorded history to be more than 1.5°C above pre-industrial temperatures, reaching 1.55°C (2.79°F). That’s a milestone similar to when atmospheric carbon dioxide passed 400 parts per million for the first time in 2014. They’re both largely symbolic: while planetary temperatures are likely to cool in the coming months as El Niño fades, the spike points to an ominous future if emissions aren’t slowed. 

Related Graphics

See our full report for the methodology of the calculations and a link to an embeddable interactive.