David Whitehouse

The truth about the global warming pause

Between the start of 1997 and the end of 2014, average global surface temperature stalled. This 18-year period is known as the global warming pause, also sometimes referred to as the global warming hiatus. The rise in global temperatures that alarmed climate campaigners in the 1990s had slowed so much that the trend was no longer statistically significant. It has been the subject of much research and debate in peer-reviewed scientific journals.

Global surface temperature between January 1997 and December 2014

Then, in the spring of 2015, El Niño, a warm ocean phase in the equatorial Pacific developed. It rapidly drove up global temperatures by 0.5°C in less than a year. In fact, the 2015/16 El Niño turned out to be the strongest such event in recorded history and helped to make 2015 and 2016 the warmest years in the modern warm period.

This El Niño spike encouraged a number of climate activists and campaigners to claim that the warming pause was now over for good. Some said we were on the verge of runaway global warming. Others even denied that a hiatus ever existed.

One of these scientists is Dr Phil Williamson from the University of East Anglia. Writing in the Spectator, he rather confusingly claims that the non-existent pause ‘ended’ when there was a sudden rise in global temperatures in 2015 and 2016. Climate activists make much of the recent run of these record-breaking warm years, but they are quite wrong to blame climate change. These records are primarily a product of El Niño, a short-term and entirely natural ocean phase that habitually drives up global temperatures for a short period of time.

It is obvious that the sudden rise in temperatures during the most recent El Niño was far too fast to be the result of long-term global warming.

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