Jan 24, 2019 - Energy & Environment

2018 was the 4th-hottest year on record as global warming marches on

Data: Berkeley Earth; Chart: Axios Visuals
Data: Berkeley Earth; Chart: Axios Visuals

Last year was the 4th-warmest year globally in temperature records that date back to the mid-1800s, ranking only behind 2016 (the warmest), 2015 and 2017, new data from the research group Berkeley Earth shows.

Why it matters: It underscores the long-term warming trend and arrives on the heels of major UN and U.S. federal reports on the near- and long-term dangers of failing to steeply cut emissions.

And the group's data fills a gap left by the partial government shutdown, which has delayed the release of annual data from two federal agencies: the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and NASA.

The big picture: "The slight decline in 2018 is likely to reflect short-term natural variability, but the overall pattern remains consistent with a long-term trend towards global warming," the report states.

By the numbers: They find that global temperatures last year were almost 1.4°F (or 0.77°C) above the average between 1951 and 1980.

And it's even warmer when compared to the pre-industrial age.

  • "In our estimation, temperatures in 2018 were around 1.16 °C (2.09 °F) above the average temperature of the late 19th century, from 1850-1900, a period often used as a pre-industrial baseline for global temperature targets," they write.
  • They estimate that 4.3% of the Earth’s surface set new records for the warmest yearly average. "Most significantly in 2018, this included large portions of Europe and the Middle East," the report states.

What's next: They estimate that 2019 will be even warmer than 2018, but is unlikely to topple 2016 as the warmest on record. "At present it appears that there is roughly a 50% likelihood that 2019 will become the 2nd warmest year since 1850," Berkeley Earth writes.

Threat level: Robert Rohde, the team's lead scientist, underscored how current warming trends will blow past the targets of the Paris climate agreement.

The 2015 deal is aimed at avoiding some of the most damaging effects of climate change by holding warming to "well below" 2°C, or 3.6°F, above pre-industrial levels, with an aspirational target of limiting the rise to 1.5°C.

  • "If the current warming trend is allowed to continue at the present rate, we estimate that the Earth will have warmed 1.5 °C above the 1850-1900 average by about 2035, and reach 2.0 °C by about 2060," he said via Twitter.
  • The five warmest years in the global record have all come in the past decade.

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