Another startling monthly global temperature record: February 2016

It would be great to put these monthly global temperature updates on pause. After all, analyzing changes from month-to-month tends to  focus too much on weather, when what matters is the long term trend. I was hoping to take a hiatus from making monthly updates and instead just report quarterly. But then the February data came in and the RSS satellite data had a major revamp. Let’s start with the Nasa data. The anomaly for February average global temperature was an astonishing and unprecedented 1.35°C, the warmest monthly anomaly ever (by 0.21°C over January 2016), 0.25°C warmer than the warmest month of the previous warmest calendar  year (December 2015) and and by far the warmest February ever measured (0.47°C over February 1998) . So, to summarize, the anomaly for February 2016 was:

  • One fifth of a degree warmer than the previous warmest month;
  • One quarter of a degree warmer than the warmest month of the warmest ever year;
  • Nearly half a degree warmer than the previous warmest February.

Here’s the graph comparing monthly anomalies to those of  recent warm years:


The month’s temperatures came in 0.25°C above my inexpert expectations, which were updated just a month ago. Here’s what the annual temperatures look like: Continue reading

NASA January 2016 temperature update

The NASA GISTEMP global average surface temperature data have been updated to include January 2016, which had the largest monthly temperature anomaly ever recorded: 1.13°Celsius above the 1951-1980 baseline. This is slightly above the  December 2015 anomaly of 1.11°C.


The graph shows month-by-month anomalies for selected warm years. In addition, I have added my guess for how monthly temperatures might trend over the year. This is not an expert forecast and I have done it just to calculate what the annual surface temperature for 2016 would be if that trajectory were followed. Basically, I have assumed that the elevated temperature attributable to the big El Niño will persist until May and will drop off until September. My guess is that the annual anomaly for 2016 will be 0.93°C, 0.07°C higher than 2015. This is shown by the orange dot in the graph below. Continue reading

Corrections, misties and anomalies

Corrections, misties and anomalies

Apologies to all who came here earlier. I mistakenly published this yesterday before it was finished.

I don’t read denialist blogs very often. Life is too short. And there are more interesting scientific and policy problems to grapple with than trying to figure out where some guy on Watt’s Up With That, with no background in climate science, gets his facts and reasoning all wrong.

Luckily, dipping into Sou’s excellent blog, Hot Whopper, saves me a lot of time and keeps me up to date on all the craziness. A recent article of Sou’s: Desperate Deniers Part 2: David Middleton fakes satellite data “Just for grins” does an excellent job of debunking a WUWT post by David Middleton (archived here). Sou mainly focuses on a graph that Middleton drew comparing contiguous US land surface temperatures with global lower troposphere temperatures. Fish in a barrel.

Sou does show that NOAA’s corrected annual land surface temperature anomalies for the CONUS actually compare quite nicely with the lower troposphere data above the same region as prepared by the University of Alabama Huntsville. Thus:


What caught my eye about David Middleton’s post was this: Continue reading

A global temperature record for 2015

A global temperature record for 2015

The 2015 data are now in for Nasa’s GISTEMP surface temperature record. (News release, slides, data.) As expected, 2015 is the warmest year in the series. By far. The two warmest years in recorded global history were 2014 and 2015. Fifteen of the sixteen warmest years on record have occurred since 2001. December 2015 was the warmest month ever recorded.


The smooth lines are 42-point and 12-point Loess filter calculations. I defy anyone to identify the much-ballyhooed “pause”.

According to Britain’s Met Office, 2016 is likely to be warmer still. The increase from 2015 t0 2016 is likely to be as big as the jump from 2014 to 2015.

2016-01-05_18-23-14If this happens, it will be the first time ever in the history of global surface thermometer records that there were three years of consecutive new records. Even if 2016 turns out to be a little cooler than the Met Office forecast, it is very likely that by this time next year the three warmest years since global measurements began will be 2014, 2015 and 2016, in some order or other. Continue reading

The quest for CCS

The quest for CCS

This article was originally published online at Corporate Knights and will appear in the hard copy Winter 2016 Edition of the Corporate Knights Magazine, which is to be included  as a supplement to the Globe and Mail and Washington Post later in January 2016. The photograph used in the original was changed for copyright reasons. Also reposted at Skeptical Science.

Human civilization developed over a period of 10,000 years during which global average surface temperatures remained remarkably stable, hovering within one degree Celsius of where they are today.

If we are to keep future temperatures from getting far outside that range, humanity will be forced to reduce fossil fuel emissions to zero by 2050. Halving our emissions is not good enough: we need to get down to zero to stay under the 2 C target that scientists and policy makers have identified as the limit beyond which global warming becomes dangerous.

Photo: rustneversleeps

Shell boasting about its government-funded Quest CCS project, on a Toronto bus.  “Shell Quest captures one-third of our oil sands upgrader emissions”

Many scenarios have been proposed to get us there. Some of these involve rapid deployment of solar and wind power in conjunction with significant reductions in the amount of energy we consume.

Continue reading

Alberta’s new carbon tax

Alberta’s new carbon tax

Originally posted at Skeptical Science on December 31, 2015 Sunday November 22nd, 2015, Alberta’s new centre-left Premier, Rachel Notley, announced that the province would be introducing an economy-wide carbon tax priced at $30 per tonne of CO2 equivalent, to be phased in in 2016 and 2017. Observers had been expecting new efforts to mitigate emissions since Notley’s election in May 2015, but the scope and ambition of this policy took many by surprise.

Alberta, of course, is the home of the Athabasca oil sands and is one of the largest per-capita GHG emitters of any jurisdiction in the world. The new plan was nevertheless endorsed by environmental groups, First Nations and by the biggest oil companies, an extraordinary consensus that many would not have thought possible.

How was this done? I will try and explain the new policy as far as I can (the details are not all available yet), but the short answer is that a huge amount of credit is due to the panel of experts led by University of Alberta energy economist Andrew Leach and his fellow panelists. Not only did they listen to what all Albertans had to say, but they were thoughtful in framing a policy that is acceptable to almost everyone.

The background

Alberta is the wealthiest province in Canada, with a population of 4.1 million.  In 2013, greenhouse gas emissions were 267 Mt CO2 equivalent, about 65 tonnes per capita, which compares with the average for the rest of Canada of about 15 tonnes. Among US states only North Dakota and Wyoming are worse. Alberta’s fugitive emissions of methane alone amount to 29 Mt CO2e, about 7 tonnes per person, which is a little more than the average for all GHGs per-capita emissions in the world.

Continue reading

2015 in review: Critical Angle and Skeptical Science

2015 in review: Critical Angle and Skeptical Science

The  most-read piece of the year on Critical Angle was The history of emissions and the Great Acceleration where I looked at data from the Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center and in which I discovered some surprising (at least to me) factoids about emissions. For example:

  • Cumulative emissions from land-use changes since 1750 were bigger than cumulative emissions from all fossil fuels combined up to 1978.
  • Using an ultra-simple 40% atmospheric fraction carbon-cycle model yields a good match between observations of atmospheric CO2 concentrations and emissions statistics.
  • The Great Acceleration in almost everything, which happened in the years after 1950, brought forward the climate crisis by 20 years. That’s a shorter time than the world has wasted since the Rio Earth Summit in 1992.

I must like trilogies, since I wrote two of them this year. In January I did a series on fracking, focussing mainly on the UK:

  1. Spot the charlatan
  2. There’s no endorsement of fracking from Skeptical Science or climate experts
  3. Quantity has a quality all of its own.

Later in the year I wrote about the road to the two degrees target:

  1. Feasible emissions pathways, burying our carbon and bioenergy
  2. Are the experts being candid about our chances?
  3. Equity, inertia and fairly sharing our carbon budget.

I was pleased to be asked by the Corporate Knights Magazine to provide some pieces for their website and for the quarterly hardcopy magazine that is distributed with the Globe and Mail and the Washington Post: Why the 97% consensus on climate change still gets challenged (Summer 2015 Issue); Are we overestimating our global carbon budget? (website only) and; B.C. lowballing fugitive methane emissions from natural gas industry (Fall 2015 Issue). There’s another article (on CCS) scheduled for the Winter 2015 issue of the magazine, due out in January 2016.

All of this pales beside the combined output of my colleagues at Skeptical Science who have contributed hugely with numerous academic articles, conference presentations, pieces in the mainstream and social media, as well as a University of Queensland supported Massive Open Online Course.

Skeptical Science is run without significant funding, except for a tip jar to pay for Internet hosting. Everyone who contributes there does so as a volunteer, mostly in spare time from day jobs.There are a lot of valuable supporters whose names don’t appear on articles, but who keep the website running and the comments moderated.

I should add that much of what I write benefits from reviews and comments made by my Skeptical Science colleagues.

Continue reading

My interview on KKRN community radio

Last week, presenter Doug Bennett  asked me to do an interview on KKRN Community Radio based in Round Mountain, California. It was supposed to be a phone-in show as well, but in the event they only put one caller through. The main subject of the conversation was the 2°C target and what we have to do to get there, especially with regard to carbon capture and storage, and bioenergy carbon capture and storage. We also ranged a little off-topic onto population growth.

You can listen to it here or on the KKRN site linked above.


Apparently, I say “um” a lot. I’m going to have to work on that.

NASA November temperature update: the heat is still on

There has been little doubt for several months, but now it is certain: 2015 will be the hottest year on record by far.


Data from NASA, with my guesswork from July 2015 shown in dashed and dotted lines.

November would have set another monthly record, except that October was revised upwards by two-hundredths of a degree. As it is, this is the hottest November on record. For 2015 not to be a record year, December would have to come in with a below-zero anomaly and that is not happening.

Note to readers: my guesswork is not an expert forecast, but a what-if exercise I did a few months ago in an attempt to predict average anomalies for 2015 and 2016. I will not be updating my guesses as reality proves them wrong. But I would welcome improved forecasts from readers who understand the El Niño and surface temperature dynamics better than I do.

The annual anomaly chart below shows the projection (which assumes that December is as warm as November) by the red x, 0.862 °C above the  1951-1980 baseline. My guess from July 2015 for 2015 is shown as the red square and for 2016 by the orange dot.


It is now certain that we have set two record years in a row, something that last happened in 1980-1981. It is even possible, given a persistent El Niño, that 2016 will be hotter than 2015, which would give three record years in a row, something that has not happened since at least 1880. Continue reading

The Road to Two Degrees, Part Three: Equity, inertia and fairly sharing the remaining carbon budget

The Road to Two Degrees, Part Three: Equity, inertia and fairly sharing the remaining carbon budget

Previously published at Skeptical Science on December 9th, 2015

In the first part of this series, I examined the implications of relying on CCS and BECCS to get us to the two degree target. In the second part, I took a detailed look at Kevin Anderson’s arguments that IPCC mitigation scenarios aimed at two degrees are biased towards unproven negative-emissions technologies and that they consequently downplay the revolutionary changes to our energy systems and economy that we must make very soon. In this last part, I’m going to look at the challenges that the world faces in fairly allocating future emissions from our remaining carbon budget and raising the money needed for climate adaptation funds, taking account of the very unequal past and present.

Until now, economic growth has been driven and sustained largely by fossil fuels. Europe and North America started early with industrialization and, from 1800 up to around 1945, this growth was driven mainly by coal. After the Second World War there was a period of rapid (~4% per year) economic growth in Europe, N America and Japan, lasting about thirty years, that the French refer to as Les Trente Glorieuses, The Glorious Thirty. This expansion was accompanied by a huge rise in the consumption of oil, coal and natural gas. After this there was a thirty-year period of slower growth (~2%) in the developed economies, with consumption fluctuations caused by oil-price shocks and the collapse of the Soviet Union. During this time, oil and coal consumption continued to grow, but not as steadily as before. Then, at the end of the twentieth century, economic growth took off in China, with a huge increase in the consumption of coal.

Source of the emissions data is from the CDIAC. See the SkS post The History of Emissions and the Great Acceleration for further details.

If we are to achieve a stable climate, we will need to reverse this growth in emissions over a much shorter time period, while maintaining the economies of the developed world and, crucially, allowing the possibility of economic growth for the majority of humanity that has not yet experienced the benefits of a developed-country middle-class lifestyle.

Here are the the annual emissions sorted by country and region:

From Chancel and Piketty (2015) Continue reading