5 things to know about the hottest year on record

By Oxfam

Scientists report that 2015 was the hottest year ever recorded on Earth. But what does this mean for hunger and poverty, and what can we do about it?

Source: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

1. How does the hottest year on Earth impact work being done to combat poverty and hunger worldwide? What does this mean for small-scale famers trying to plan their harvests around climate change?

For small-scale farmers around the world, weather is an essential ingredient, especially since many of them don’t have access to irrigation. Too much or too little rain or changes in the seasons wreak havoc on their efforts to grow food to feed their families and earn a living.

We are already in the midst of a crisis. Millions of people are feeling the effects of drought and crop failure exacerbated by El Niño.  In Ethiopia alone, the government estimates that 10 million people will need humanitarian assistance estimated to cost $1.4 billion. And beyond the humanitarian emergencies driven by extreme weather, the longer term changes and uncertainty make it difficult for farmers to invest their time, energy, and money into farming.

People displaced by drought are now living here at the Hariso camp in the Siti region of Ethiopia. Photo: Abiy Getahun/Oxfam

2. What is the significance of having back-to-back record years in terms of the earth’s temperature? Do you believe this pattern will continue for years to come?

Our planet has been flashing warning signs for a while now. No one was really surprised that 2015 stole the record from 2014 for warmest year. There is a big El Niño right now, resulting in warmer ocean waters in the Pacific that also warms the atmosphere leading to rising global temperatures.  But NASA also made it clear that this is part of a long term trend (not just El Niño) and that 2016 could also be a record breaking year.

Last month more than 200 countries reached an agreement in Paris to limit global warming to at least 2 degrees Celsius with a stretch goal to 1.5°C. While that was an important step, it isn’t enough to stem the tide. Current pledges put us on a 3°C path. Unless countries rapidly step up efforts to curb ghg emissions, this warming trend will continue for years to come.

Oxfam supporters in Belgium put pressure on world leaders before Paris climate change meeting. Photo: Oxfam SOL

3. What kind of effect will these temperatures take on the earth in terms of natural disasters (earthquakes, drought, monsoons, hurricanes, etc)? Are these kinds of disasters expected to become more common or more extreme in the near future?

There is strong evidence that shows global warming is increasing extreme weather events including things like heat waves and coastal flooding, extreme precipitation events and more severe droughts, and creating conditions that lead to more intense typhoons and hurricanes. In addition to these extreme events and disasters, climate change also has longer term effects like increased salinity resulting from sea level rise and changes in agriculture productivity resulting from changes in temperature and rainfall. Climate change will put further stress on our humanitarian system and making hunger, poverty and inequality worse unless we take actions now to address these challenges.

Cresencio lives with his family near the sea in El Paraiso, one of the most affected communities that were hit by Hurricane Patricia in October 2015. He lost his home and the restaurant he owned by the sea, which was the only economic resource he and his family had. Photo: Wolf Kublun/ Oxfam México

4. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that about 795 million people of the 7.3 billion people in the world, or one in nine, are suffering from chronic undernourishment. With the world heating up at a rapid rate, do you expect these figures to jump dramatically? 

Chronic hunger is still a problem in many places. Climate change, a growing population, and changing consumption patterns are making the fight against hunger and malnutrition more difficult. The good news is that we already produce enough food to feed the whole world, so we have the chance to end chronic malnutrition. The challenge today is around access to and distribution of nutritious food. The bad news is that climate change is making the fight against hunger more difficult, putting people living on the margins at greater risk and disrupting global production and distribution of food.

Teklehaimanot Gebeye, a farmer in Adi Ha,said because of drought he harvested only one-third of the teff he would get in a normal year. Photo: Coco McCabe/Oxfam America

5. How can concerned citizens voice their issues with climate change and the impact it will have on future generations to their leaders?

There are many things that we can do to address the climate challenge including making changes in our own lives, starting at our kitchen tables. We can also make sure our leaders prioritize climate action and help poor countries who are the most vulnerable to the effects of climate change.

Oxfam is  helping people cope with the consequences of extreme weather around the world. Donate now to assist those enduring climate related weather crises. 

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