By Jonathan Starling

On World Meteorological Day (March 23rd), the World Meteorological Organisation released its annual ‘State of the Global Climate’, providing a review of 2016 and initial observations for 2017. While these are global observations, the implications are relevant to Bermuda.

  1. 2016 was the warmest year on record: ‘...a remarkable 1.1°C above the pre-industrial period, which is 0.6°C above the previous record set in 2015.”
  2. Globally averaged sea surface temperatures were also the warmest on record. This not only threatens Bermuda’s reefs, but also will have consequences for hurricanes.
  3. Carbon Dioxide levels in the atmosphere broke new records.
  4. Each of the 16 years since 2001 has been at least 0.4°C above the long-term average for the 1961-1990 base period (used by the WMO as a reference for climate change monitoring), with global temperatures continuing to be consistent with a warming trend of 0.1-0.2°C per decade.
  5. Global sea levels reached new record highs in 2016. For a relatively low-lying island like Bermuda, this could have very serious consequences.
  1. Global sea ice extent dropped more than 4 million km2 below average in November - ‘an unprecedented anomaly for that month’.

In addition to these record breaking events, 2016 also saw severe droughts in Southern and Eastern Africa and Central America.

Indications for 2017 so far include growing evidence that ocean heat content may have increased even more than previously reported (resulting in unprecedented and irreversible die-offs among the coral reefs of the world, most notably the catastrophic extensive bleaching of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef). Additionally, provisional data also indicates that there has been no change to the rate of increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations.

While 2016 was an extreme year, with a strong El Nino event, indications are that 2017 will potentially see a repeat El Nino event as well as see continued impacts of climate change, including potential shifts in wider oceanic and atmospheric circulation patterns with uneven consequences - for example, some areas such as Canada and the USA have experienced unseasonably balmy conditions, other areas such as the Middle East and North Africa have experienced unseasonably cold conditions so far in 2017. In the USA alone over 11,700 warm temperature records were broken or tied in February, and parts of Australia experienced high temperature records. If patterns like this continue there will likely be implications for Bermuda tourism as new destinations open up, while local conditions potentially worsen.

The entry into force of the Paris Agreement under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) on November 4th, 2016 did mark a huge step forward in guiding the world in addressing climate change by curbing greenhouse gas emissions. It is vital that the Paris Agreement is implemented - and we must seek to even go beyond it.

This year the theme of Earth Hour is ‘keeping up with climate change’. The report by the WMO shows us that the impact of climate change is happening now.

Bermuda may be small, however we have a role to play in this too. This is especially the case as an island nation we are more likely to be impacted negatively from climate change from a larger or continental country. As a country we not only have an ethical obligation to act, but also a more selfish reason to act in as much as Bermuda will be greatly negatively impacted by climate change if it isn’t checked.

At a minimum Greenrock believes the Paris Agreement should be extended to Bermuda, just as the Kyoto Protocol was. We also believe that climate change needs to be a priority of the Government, looking at ensuring our infrastructure is climate proofed and setting out both caps on greenhouse gas emissions and targets for phasing out fossil fuels.

Each of us also has a role in becoming more ‘green’ in reducing our energy consumption, reduce the amount of waste we produce and be more aware of food miles in our purchasing decisions. 

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