Climate change is poised to usher in "a new normal" where average annual temperatures are concerned — and that normal is going to be a hot one. That's according to new research published in this week's Nature, which warns that regions around the world will soon see temperature increases that have no recorded historical precedent.
"Go back in your life to think about the hottest, most traumatic event you have experienced," study author Camilo Mora told The New York Times. "What we're saying is that very soon, that event is going to become the norm."
Mora's team crunched data from climate models to come up with the findings, which are based on the premise that greenhouse gas emissions will continue unabated in the years to come. The data analyzed by his team comes from 39 different climate models out of 12 countries, most of which have already been used in other published research. But Mora and his colleagues wanted to use the data to do something different: rather than offer projections of average temperature changes worldwide, they wanted to offer location-specific changes and compare those to historical temperature norms. The idea is that such figures will be easier for the public to grasp.
What they concluded is that by 2047, more than half of the planet will experience average temperatures hotter than anything seen between 1860 and 2005. In the tropics, that "tipping point" is likely to arrive even sooner: the models suggest that Jakarta will hit unprecedented temperature extremes in 2029, and that Bogotá, Columbia will experience them in 2033. Most major American cities included in the study will reach their tipping point around 2047, give or take a five-year margin of error.
Even if countries around the world make aggressive moves to curtail their emissions, an unpleasant new climactic paradigm will still emerge by 2069, the study authors speculate. That inevitability, they note, should be an urgent call for adaptive measures that would protect plant and animal life, as well as measures to ensure water security and public health, among other facets of human society that threaten to be disrupted by hotter temperatures. In the US, several federal agencies are already sounding alarms about climate change: earlier this year, for instance, the Department of Energy warned that global warming could cripple energy facilities.
Of course, this new study is only the latest in a series of dire reports about looming changes to the planet's climate. In September, a landmark publication from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) stated that "warming of the climate system is unequivocal, and since the 1950s, many of the observed changes are unprecedented over decades to millennia." The report also emphasized an urgent need to combat climate change, an effort the UN hopes to globalize with plans for a 2015 pact that would go into effect in 2020.