By Anders Lorenzen
Scientists have confirmed what many had feared; 2020 was one of the warmest years ever recorded and is positioned to be the joint warmest year ever together with 2016. This means that within the last five years we have witnessed the two warmest years ever recorded.
This was the information recorded by the EU’s satellite earth observation system, Copernicus, which also concluded it was the warmest year ever recorded in Europe.
The World Meteorological Organization (VMO) later came to a similar same conclusion though with 2016 as the warmest ever year.
Scientists say this confirms a clear trend. An added concern is that the warm 2020 happened during a ‘La Nina’ year which normally offers cooler temperatures, while 2016 was an ‘El Nino’ year which offers warmer temperatures.
Scientists had for long anticipated that 2020 would be the warmest year ever recorded, and this could still be the case when NASA and Berkeley Earth analyse the results later this year. The overall trend is clear – it is getting warmer and as emissions of greenhouse gases continue unabated this trend is not predicted to stop anytime soon.
Last year there was much optimism associated with lockdown and thus a reduction of emissions, but this was found to have had a negligible impact if any at all. Additionally, the International Energy Agency (IEA) has warned that we could experience an emissions rebound effect as countries begin to ease their lockdowns. And CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere continued to rise with a 2.3 PPM rise last year, resulting in the global atmospheric concentrations standing at around 412PPM. The scientific argument is that we need to get down to the safer level of 350 PPM, and urgently.
Another year of extremes
2020 had its share of extreme weather events. Yet again scientists expressed concern about the warming in the Arctic, with the highest temperature recorded north of the Arctic Circle in Siberia at 38C. Some regions in the Arctic experienced an annual temperature of 6 C above the annual 1981-2010 average. Europe experienced its warmest ever winter which exceeded the previous 2016 record by 1.4 C, while the world’s ever highest measured temperature of 54.4 C was recorded in the Death Valley, US.
More must be done
Vincent-Henri Peuch, Director of the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service, said about the findings: “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.”
Carlo Buontempo, Director of the Copernicus Climate Change Service, added: “2020 stands out for its exceptional warmth in the Arctic and a record number of tropical storms in the North Atlantic. 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.”
Kate Norgrove, Executive Director of Advocacy and Campaigns at WWF, reacted with concern to the findings: “These are records we shouldn’t be breaking. Tropical temperatures such as we saw in the UK last summer may be nice on occasion, but they are a stark reminder we’re in a climate crisis. This is a global problem – last year we also saw fires in the Amazon, Australia and the Arctic. “
World leaders are meeting in Glasgow in November this year for the UN climate summit COP26 to work out further ambitions to reduce emissions. This comes as several countries are not even on track to deliver what was pledged during the 2015 COP21 in Paris, and which lead to the Paris Agreement. The agreement in itself does not deliver warming below 2 degrees C which scientists say could bring us runaway climate change. However, there are bright points on the horizon with new pledges from high-emitting countries like China, Japan and the European Union which are beginning to narrow the gap.
Norgrove added: “The whole world has to act ahead of the climate conference in Glasgow this year; and as hosts, the UK Government must continue to show global leadership with swift, clear and measurable action to keep temperature rise to 1.5C, avoiding the most dangerous climate change.”