The Copernicus Climate Change Service, the EU’s Earth Observation Programme, on Friday announced that 2020 was the warmest year ever recorded tying with 2016, the previous record-holder.
The unusually high temperatures throughout 2020 happened despite the occurrence of La Nina, a recurrent weather phenomenon that has a cooling effect on global temperatures.
The announcement confirms the continuation of a worrying trend, with the last six years on the calendar corresponding to the six hottest on record. It also highlights the need for countries to cut greenhouse gas emissions, which are the main ones responsible for global warming.
While experts agree that current plans are insufficient to meet the Paris Agreement, regions such as China, Japan and the European Union have recently put forward more ambitious climate targets.
Scientists agree that as the planet warms, the frequency and intensity of many extreme weather events increases. There were many signs of this in 2020, with record temperatures in the Arctic, very large wildfires in Australia and the US, and heavy downpours that caused severe floods in several Asian countries during the monsoon season, including India.
Floods in India had a very high death toll, with 2,067 people killed. Losses are estimated at $10 billion.
The analysis of mean global temperatures is performed regularly by several scientific institutions. In addition to Copernicus, observatories from NASA, NOAA, Berkeley Earth and Hadley, all monitor global temperatures throughout the year.
Because they use different methodologies, there are small differences between the datasets and it’s possible that these other groups might find that 2020 was not necessarily hotter than 2016.
2020: A Turning Point
Despite these small discrepancies, all the analyses confirm the overall trend, with recent years consistently found to be the hottest on record.
2020 has been a turning point for international climate action. The Covid-19 pandemic has caused the largest decrease ever in the world’s annual greenhouse gas emissions. And several major economies announced throughout the year their commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
China’s President Xi Jinping said in September that the country will peak emissions before 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality before 2060. China is currently the world’s largest emitter, the country with the highest population and the planet’s second biggest economy.
Other countries in the region, such as South Korea and Japan, also announced that they would become carbon neutral by 2050.
A few days before the end of the year, the European Union increased its climate targets and aims now to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 55 per cent by 2030, as compared to 1990 levels.
And in the US, president-elect Joe Biden has pledged to rejoin the Paris Agreement soon after taking office, and to unroll an ambitious climate plan.
The United Nations Climate Change Conference, to be held in November in Glasgow, could set the stage for a low-carbon economy. Over the next months, countries have to submit their updated plans to cut greenhouse gas emissions. And with renewable energies now as the cheapest option in the market, it is expected that countries will ramp up their ambition.
A year of extreme events
In 2020, extreme weather events worldwide cost more than $150 billion, according to a recent report.
These events included heatwaves, wildfires, floods and tropical cyclones — all of which are known to be influenced by global warming.
Extreme temperatures were constant throughout the year and broke several records. These include: Hottest day on record in Siberia, with temperatures of 38 degrees Celsius, the highest ever recorded north of the Arctic Circle.
The extreme temperature was reached amid a heatwave that would have been “almost impossible” without climate change, according to a study.