Climate statistics paint a bleak picture for the environment

As temperatures and CO2 levels rise, Donald Trump is set to go back on Paris agreement

Chinese president Xi Jinping and US president Barack Obama formally commit to the Paris agreement in September 2016. Photograph: Stephen Crowley/The New York Times

Land temperatures up, ocean temperatures up, and so too the levels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases implicated in causing climate change.

The climate change statistics for last year go into the record books as the hottest year yet – for the third year in a row.

The Paris climate talks, which generated so much optimism – with limits set for warming and all the big players signed up to reduce emissions – somehow seem diminished when one realises that global warming continues apace.

Nor is there any comfort when considering the portent of evil in the alignment of planets that is the forthcoming Donald Trump presidency. He campaigned for the office declaring he would pull down environmental restrictions on energy production put in place by president Barack Obama.


He dismissed global warming as a ruse by the Chinese to damage the US economy and chose climate change denier Scott Pruitt as director of the US Environmental Protection Agency.

Major damage

If Trump does as he plans to extract the US from the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, then it will cause major damage to efforts to rein in fossil fuel emissions. The US and China are the biggest contributors to greenhouse gas in the environment. It is not clear who might seek to follow the US lead and return to a business-as-usual approach to combating global warming.

As this latest round of climate statistics from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration show, things continue to roll rapidly downhill.

Warming continues apace virtually everywhere on land, sea and air. Some areas are under particular stress, most notably the Arctic. It has touched four degrees above the long-term average and this has strongly affected ice extent which, like everything else, has produced unwanted records for minimum ice cover.

Still unsure

The worst thing is, scientists are still unsure why things went so very warm in the Arctic region. “The warming in the Arctic has been really unusual,” said Nasa’s Gavin Schmidt.

These are also the first climate statistics since we learned from researchers in the US and UK earlier this month that there was no famous “pause” in the advance of climate change.

“The main take-home response is the trends that we have been seeing since the 1970s are continuing and have not paused in any way,” said Schmidt.

Dick Ahlstrom

Dick Ahlstrom

Dick Ahlstrom, a contributor to The Irish Times, is the newspaper's former Science Editor.