Environment

2020 ties for hottest year on record

2020 ties for hottest year on ...
New climate data shows that 2020 was the hottest year on record, tied with 2016
New climate data shows that 2020 was the hottest year on record, tied with 2016
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New climate data shows that 2020 was the hottest year on record, tied with 2016
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New climate data shows that 2020 was the hottest year on record, tied with 2016
A heat map of the world, comparing air temperatures for 2020 to the average of 1981-2010 reference period
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A heat map of the world, comparing air temperatures for 2020 to the average of 1981-2010 reference period
Average temperatures per decade, according to various sources (see key)
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Average temperatures per decade, according to various sources (see key)
Global air temperatures, collated from a variety of sources (see key), show a clear upward trend in recent decades
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Global air temperatures, collated from a variety of sources (see key), show a clear upward trend in recent decades
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Comprehensive climate data has shown that globally, 2020 was the warmest year on record, tied with 2016. Worryingly, 2020’s record came in spite of a La Niña event, which has a cooling effect, while 2016’s record came off the back of a warming El Niño.

The data comes from the European Union’s Copernicus program, which is comprised of the Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S) and the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS). The C3S dataset shows that average global surface air temperatures in 2020 were about 1.25 °C (2.25 °F) warmer than the baseline between 1850 and 1900, and 0.6 °C (1.1 °F) warmer than the 1981 to 2010 reference period.

A heat map of the world, comparing air temperatures for 2020 to the average of 1981-2010 reference period
A heat map of the world, comparing air temperatures for 2020 to the average of 1981-2010 reference period

This makes 2020 the warmest year on record for Europe, where temperatures climbed to 1.6 °C (2.9 °F) above the 1981 to 2010 average, and 0.4 °C (0.7 °F) higher than the previous record holder, 2019. But the biggest spike occurred in the Arctic region, where an unprecedented heatwave helped temperatures soar by more than 6 °C (10.8 °F) above the 1981 to 2010 average.

According to both Copernicus and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), the six warmest years on record are the last six, and the top 20 all occur in the last 21 years. The decade of 2011 to 2020 is also the warmest decade on record, continuing a clear upward trend since the 1980s.

But what makes the new warmest year record particularly concerning is that parts of the Southern Hemisphere experienced lower than average temperatures due to a La Niña event, a weather pattern associated with cooler conditions. That doesn't bode well for future years under El Niño, the opposite weather pattern which has a warming effect.

“Record warm years have usually coincided with a strong El Niño event, as was the case in 2016,” says Petteri Taalas, Secretary-General of WMO. “We are now experiencing a La Niña, which has a cooling effect on global temperatures, but has not been sufficient to put a brake on this year’s heat. Despite the current La Niña conditions, this year has already shown near record heat comparable to the previous record of 2016.”

Global air temperatures, collated from a variety of sources (see key), show a clear upward trend in recent decades
Global air temperatures, collated from a variety of sources (see key), show a clear upward trend in recent decades

The temperature records were accompanied by records in carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere. The global column-averaged maximum CO2 levels hit 413.1 parts per million (pp) – a record high – with an observatory in Hawaii recording an individual record high of 416.21 ppm in May 2020.

The year-on-year growth of CO2 concentrations slowed somewhat in 2020, largely due to the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent shutdowns. This figure was 2.3 ppm/year, down from 2.5 ppm/year in 2019, however that isn’t enough to put much of a dent in climate change.

More details about 2020’s climate will be released in various reports from WMO and Copernicus over the next few months.

Sources: Copernicus, WMO

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7 comments
7 comments
Daishi
I consider myself a realist. The fact that a pandemic that forced the entire world to implement lockdowns for close to a full year is not a drastic enough measure to get C02 emissions within acceptable levels is a pretty alarming fact to me. Yes climate change is real, yes humans are mostly responsible. But honestly, now what? It's very hard to convince humans to change behavior or habits even when they agree the change is better and getting them to agree is far from easy. It's a struggle to get some people to put a can in a recycle bin even when it's the same distance as the trash can. Even when the change is as immediate as life and death it's hard to convince some people to make even minor changes to their lifestyle but something without obvious visible immediate impact to people is much harder. Even if you convinced people that that they personally as an individual would cause the globe to warm 10 degrees with a year and all they had to change was a handful of habits depending on who they are and how cold it is where they live will simply just shrug. People always focus on the most immediate problems first and something like global warming will always be a lower priority than war, famine, national security etc. Countries will be reluctant to put pressure on manufacturing industry if they risk losing that manufacturing to a country that will overlook environmental restrictions so politicians and lobbyist will forever be in the way. We can try to slow climate change but short of a mass extinction event we aren't going to stop it.
Johnny Partain
What an ignorant conclusory statement, “We are now experiencing a La Niña, which has a cooling effect on global temperatures, but has not been sufficient to put a brake on this year’s heat." As if the La Nina weather pattern affects the total energy of a global system. And then to opine that human mass extinction is a solution - to political cause? Really?
Robert in Vancouver
Every prediction about climate change that all the "experts" agreed with has been wrong, every one of them. Polar ice caps didn't melt, seas haven't risen, glaciers didn't disappear, the Amazon forest didn't dry up, etc.

My expert prediction is that climate will continue to change like it always has for millions of years no matter what humans do. We need to change the focus to things we really can change like finding a cure for cancer. Stop the foolish wasting of time and money on things we can't change like the climate.
nick101
Climate change is real and ongoing, l, it's always been real and ongoing. When I was a boy they were talking about global cooling! The hysteria is going to do nothing, we have politicized science to the extent that nothing we hear is undistorted. 100 years from now they'll still be talking about how "This year is it, we better stop creating Co2 now or everything's over!"
bwana4swahili
Climate change is a fact of life on Earth. As one living far north in the northern hemisphere I'm loving it. It will be great for Canadians and Russians (particularly in Siberia). Humanity should have thought about warming the Earth a bit sooner!!
Douglas Bennett Rogers
What has happened to the global mean wet bulb, i. e., heat load?
buzzclick
It's been years that I have been ruminating over the solutions to our anthropomorphic climate predicament. Daishi already has mentioned many of my views. No person or animal are left untouched by this people-induced collective suicide.

It's gotta get much worse before it will ever get better.