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Story at a glance

  • Europe’s Copernicus Climate Change Service reports 2020 and the preceding decade were the hottest years recorded on Earth.
  • Warmer weather patterns and wildfires are some of the effects of increased carbon emissions.

The conclusion of 2020 also saw the end of the hottest year on record, tied with an earlier record set in 2016, according to the Copernicus Climate Change Service.

This marks the end of the hottest decade on record, despite the COVID-19 pandemic shutting down multiple economic sectors that drive carbon emissions.

Overall, 2020 was approximately 0.6 degrees Celsius warmer than the standard 1981-2010 reference period and about 1.25 degrees Celsius above the 1850-1900 pre-industrial period.


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Pre-industrial levels of temperature have recently acted as a baseline for how global temperatures are changing. The goals of the Paris Agreement, a global pledge to collectively reduce temperatures by 1.5 degrees Celsius, reference pre-industrial temperatures as a comparison.

Satellite data suggests that global carbon emissions hit an average high of 413 parts per million (ppm), and are continuing to rise.

Europe as a continent saw its warmest year on record, and parts of Siberia and the Arctic recorded the largest deviation from historically average temperatures.

"2020 stands out for its exceptional warmth in the Arctic and a record number of tropical storms in the North Atlantic,” Carlo Buontempo, Director of the Copernicus Climate Change Service said. “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."

Vincent-Henri Peuch, director of the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service, notes that 2020 did see a small decrease in carbon dioxide emissions as opposed to 2019 levels.

This may seem encouraging, but Peuch says carbon emissions must still be brought down to net zero levels.

“While carbon dioxide concentrations have risen slightly less in 2020 than in 2019, this is no cause for complacency,” he said. “Until the net global emissions reduce to zero, CO2 will continue to accumulate in the atmosphere and drive further climate change."


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Published on Jan 08, 2021