2006 Expected to Be One of the Warmest Years on Record

Humanity confronts a continuous rise in global temperatures, a changing and less predictable climate, and potentially huge dislocations. Zafar Adeel of the United Nations University says that the number of people fleeing desertification or climate change-induced drought and flooding may reach 50 million within a decade and as many as 135 million to 200 million by 2050.

According to preliminary data from the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), 2006 will likely be the sixth warmest year ever recorded. WMO records indicate that current global mean surface temperatures are 0.42 degrees Celsius above the 1961-1990 annual average of 14C (57.2 degrees Fahrenheit). Since the late 1880s, the five warmest years have all occurred since 1998. The past 12 months have seen many episodes of unprecedented heat, prolonged drought, heavy rainfall and flooding, and deadly storms in many regions of the world. For instance:

  • Persistent extreme heat affected much of eastern Australia from late December 2005 until early March 2006.

  • Heat waves were registered in Brazil from January until March and in several parts of Europe with record temperatures in July and August.
  • Long-term drought continued in parts of the Greater Horn of Africa, with at least 11 million people affected by food shortages.
  • Heavy rains and floods seriously affected several of the world’s regions. Floods are said to be the worst in 50 years in the Great Horn of Africa region.
  • Fourteen typhoons developed in south-east Asia, killing thousands of people and causing billions of dollars of damage.

The implications for the future pace and intensity of disasters such as droughts, floods, extreme weather patterns, and coastal inundation due to sea-level rise are dire. Still, considerable uncertainty remains about the precise nature and degree of these linkages. A WMO workshop in Costa Rica, for instance, concluded in mid-December that no firm link can yet be drawn between human-induced climate change and variations in intensity and frequency of tropical cyclones. Notwithstanding considerable improvements in the last few decades, the lack of accuracy of tropical cyclone monitoring and regional inconsistencies in monitoring capabilities still make detection of trends difficult.