August 2014 was the hottest August on record, according to data released on Monday by NASA. The news comes as the United Nations prepares to host a climate conference aimed at setting the stage for an international deal next year in Paris to reduce Earth-warming emissions.
The data of last month’s temperatures fall into a longer trend of unseasonably hot years — a development that the overwhelming majority of scientists believe is attributed, in part at very least, to the role of man-made greenhouse gas emissions.
NASA’s Global Land-Ocean Temperature index, which has provided data on global temperatures since 1881, indicated that this past August was 0.7 degrees Celsius hotter than the average August temperature between 1951 and 1980.
Gavin Schmidt, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, which publishes the index, said the August temperatures vary only a fraction from other hot Augusts, but that the long-term trend of a warming world is there.
"You can see there is a clear trend to more heat waves in the middle latitudes and there is a trend to more intense precipitation," said Schmidt.
Some of the most dramatic warming occurred in Antarctica. NASA found temperatures 7 to 14 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than the 20th century average. And 2014 as a whole could be the fourth hottest on record, the publication Climate Progress reported.
In the United States, President Barack Obama’s attempts to impose rules restricting greenhouse gas emissions have run into opposition from politicians representing constituents whose livelihoods rely on coal, gas and oil.
In China, which edges out the U.S. as the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases, public investment in renewable energy technology can’t keep pace with explosive economic growth and Chinese citizens’ aspirations to live middle-class lives that require more energy.
Less developed countries contend that any global agreement on combating climate change should leave them more wiggle room to pollute. Their argument holds that since rich economies developed by belching out billions of tons of carbon, they should bear more of the responsibility than developing economies.
Some of the world’s tiniest countries — island nations, for example — are extremely vulnerable to the most dramatic consequences of climate change, like rising sea levels. One, Kiribati, recently bought land in Fiji to relocate their people — a “migration with dignity” as the Pacific slowly swallows their homes.
Schmidt said global summits like next week’s U.N. meeting are worthwhile because scientists across the globe — not just ones who live and work in Western industrialized countries — can share their views,
"We want to get together to share what works, to share experiences in adapting to change and share information that can be helpful for people to plan for the future," Schmidt said.