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Phwoarr, what a scorcher! 2015 in climate change

2015 was an eventful year for climate change. China's coal consumption peaked; global temperature records were broken; faith leaders called for action; and much more.

All this set the scene for the Paris climate summit in December where UN member states adopted a new deal to tackle climate change and limit greenhouse gas emissions.


What a scorcher! Image: IIP photo archives, Creative Commons Licence

  • Scientists find sea levels have been rising twice as fast as previously thought over the last 20 years
  • China reaches ‘peak coal’, with consumption falling by 2.9 % in 2014 compared with the previous year. China accounts for half of the world’s annual coal burning
  • Scientists publish evidence that climate change has made drought in the ‘Fertile Crescent’ 2-3 times more likely, and thus contributed to conflict in Syria and the subsequent flow of refugees
  • For the first time, economic growth and rise in carbon emissions appear to have ‘decoupled’ from each other. Data from the International Energy Agency (IEA) shows global emissions from the energy sector stayed constant during 2014 while the global economy grew
  • In England, climate change has made heatwaves 22 times more likely, scientists find
  • Scientists find that the so-called ‘global warming pause’ or ‘slowdown’ may not have been real, just an artefact of measurement methods

Pope Francis makes the moral case for action on climate change. Image: Martin Schulz, Creative Commons Licence

  • Pope issues an Encyclical, Laudate Sii, on the environment. He addresses it to all human beings rather than just the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics, so reaching out to wider audiences than ever before
  • Archbishop of Canterbury joins representatives of other faiths in asking for urgent action to tackle climate change
  • G7 countries agree to decarbonise the global economy over the course of the century
  • China announces its climate action plan, confirming that its emissions will peak around 2030 or earlier
  • Norway confirms $900bn sovereign wealth fund's major coal divestment – the largest divestment yet
  • Lancet Commission on Health and Climate Change calls climate change a ‘global health emergency’, and says tackling it is the greatest health opportunity of the 21st Century
  • 1st July sees hottest UK July day on record (36.7 degrees C)
  • Survey shows that around the world, climate change rates as people’s top global concern (more than terrorism or economic instability)
  • President Obama releases US climate action plan to reduce emissions by 26-28% below 2005 levels by 2025
  • Islamic leaders call for action on climate change and for phasing out of fossil fuels, saying that ‘Excessive pollution from fossil fuels threatens to destroy the gifts bestowed on us by God’

Governor of the Bank of England warns of risk from fossil fuel investments. Image: Bank of England, Creative Commons Licence

  • Fossil fuel divestment pledges surpass $2.6trn, with more than 400 institutions and 2,000 individuals committing to divest from fossil fuels
  • NOAA announces that 2015 is virtually guaranteed to be the hottest year on record
  • In the UK, renewable generation overtakes coal for the first time, providing a quarter of UK electricity
  • Shell abandons plans for Arctic drilling after major protests and blaming unfavourable regulatory circumstances
  • UN’s assessment of countries’ climate pledges show they will put world on course for about 2.7C warming rather than 4-5C under business-as-usual

There is public backing for climate action. Image: The Weekly Bull, Creative Commons Licence

  • The world enters ‘uncharted territory’, as the global average temperature rise since pre-industrial times is set to reach 1°C for the first time
  • In the UK, the mercury touches 22.4ºC – the warmest November day ever recorded
  • Nearly four out of five people (78%) want their governments to restrict carbon emissions as part of an international climate deal


  • UN member states adopt the Paris Agreement, a new global accord on tackling climate change
  • Serious flooding in many parts of the UK; the Met Office subsequently says that the month was not only the wettest December in the UK on record, but also the wettest calendar month overall since records began in 1910. 

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