Scorching hot years like 2015 and 2016 will soon be the new normal, a study says.
2015 — the Earth’s warmest year on record — could be just another average year in as soon as 10 years if carbon emissions continue to rise at their current rate.
“If we continue with business-as-usual emissions, extreme seasons will inevitably become the norm within decades," said study lead author Sophie Lewis of the Australian National University.
Both 2014 and 2015 set global temperature records, and 2016 is on track to be do the same, according to NASA. Climate records that go back to 1880.
The burning of fossil fuels such as gas, oil and coal emits carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, causing the Earth to warm to levels that cannot be explained by natural factors.
What's even more sobering is that no matter what action we take, the global annual average temperature of 2015 will be the norm by 2040, the study said.
However, while the planet as a whole is locked in to this level of warming, the study said it's still possible for certain regions to prevent record-breaking warmth from becoming the standard. But it will take "immediate and strong action on carbon emissions" for this to happen, the study said.
The Paris climate agreement, which officially went into effect Friday, sets a target of limiting global warming by 2100 to “well below” 3.6 degrees, as compared with pre-industrial levels. But the planet is already likely to blow by the emissions targets spelled out in the deal, according to a report released Thursday by the U.N. Environment Programme.
The impetus for the global temperature study was to define what "new normal" actually means. It's often been used when discussing climate change, but it had seldom been clearly defined. Lewis and her team developed a scientific definition for the term:
"Based on a specific starting point, we determined a new normal occurred when at least half of the years following a record year were cooler and half warmer. Only then can a new normal state be declared," Lewis said.
The study appeared in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society.