2020 was the warmest year recorded in Europe, breaking the previous 2019 record by 0.4°C, according Copernicus, the EU’s satellite earth observation system. Globally, the year tied with 2016 as the hottest on record.
Highlighting a consistent trend since the past decade, 2020 was also the sixth consecutive year to be the hottest on record. Worryingly, this occurred in a “La Nina” year, where climate conditions are usually cooler.
2016, which tied with 2020 for being the hottest year, was an “El Nino” year, where climate conditions would naturally be hotter, alongside man-made warming.
“We are in an era of sustained record breaking years. This is no longer breaking news, but a human crisis,” said Dr. Marshall Shepherd, Georgia Athletic Association Distinguished Professor of Atmospheric Sciences and Geography.
The analysis of global temperatures is performed regularly by scientific institutions, like NASA and Berkeley Earth. Because of small discrepancies between them, it is possible 2020 was not hotter than 2016, but it confirms the overall trend.
Alongside this, although COVID-19 lockdowns reduced greenhouse gas emissions, CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere continued to rise, increasing at a rate of approximately 2.3 ppm/year in 2020.
“While carbon dioxide concentrations have risen slightly less in 2020 than in 2019, this is no cause for complacency. Until the net global emissions reduce to zero, CO2 will continue to accumulate in the atmosphere and drive further climate change,” said Vincent-Henri Peuch, Director of the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service.
The trend highlights the urgency to rapidly decrease greenhouse gas emissions, which are the main contributor to man-made global warming.
Current plans submitted under the Paris Agreement are not sufficient to keep the planet’s heating within safer levels, but new pledges from countries like China, Japan and the European Union do show encouraging signs.
A year of climate pledges and extreme weather
Extreme weather conditions highlight the urgency of climate action. Last year, Europe experienced its warmest ever winter, exceeding the previous 2016 record by almost 1.4°C.
2020 also saw the highest temperature recorded north of the Arctic Circle in Siberia at 38°C, with some of the Arctic seeing an annual temperature of 6°C above the 1981-2010 average.
The Siberian heatwave of 2020 would have been “almost impossible without climate change,” according to the World Weather Attribution, an international scientific effort to analyse and communicate the influence of climate change on extreme weather events.
Last year also witnessed the hottest ever temperature recorded on the planet, which was recorded in Death Valley, California at 54.4°C.
The extreme weather events cost the world around $150 billion, according to Christian Aid.
“2020 stands out for its exceptional warmth in the Arctic and a record number of tropical storms in the North Atlantic,” said Carlo Buontempo, Director of the Copernicus Climate Change Service.
“It is no surprise that the last decade was the warmest on record, and is yet another reminder of the urgency of ambitious emissions reductions to prevent adverse climate impacts in the future,” he added.
The European Union, alongside other countries, has set money aside for a green recovery from the coronavirus pandemic, but there are fears some of that funding will go towards polluting industries.
In 2019, G20 countries spent $130bn on fossil fuel subsidies, not including the UK, Turkey and Saudi Arabia. That number is projected to increase to $233bn in 2020 on the back of recovery plans, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA).
“In context of the pandemic, scientists have found that the economic stimulus provided by governments as liquidity support to keep businesses afloat (and support individuals) dwarfs the annual energy investments required to stay on a low-carbon pathway consistent with the Paris climate agreement,” said Dr Karsten Haustein, Scientist at the Climate Service Center Germany.
“Given we are in a state of climate emergency too – one which cannot be made undone with a vaccine – smart investment choices are what is needed given what’s at stake,” she added.
[Edited by Frédéric Simon]