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Climate catastrophe continues as 2020 is ranked as the warmest year on record by NASA

By Diva Sinha, MSc Environment, Politics and Development

According to a climate analysis conducted by the scientists at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) in New York, 2020 was the warmest year on record, edging out 2016 by a narrow margin. The analysis also showed that the trend of rising temperatures has remained consistently high for the last seven years.

In response to the analysis, Gavin Schmidt, director of GISS said ‘The last seven years have been the warmest seven years on record, typifying the ongoing and dramatic warming trend. With these trends, and as the human impact on the climate increases, we have to expect that records will continue to be broken.’

‘The average land and ocean surface temperature across the globe in 2020 was 1.76 degrees above average.’

Independent analyses conducted by the United States Scientific Agency, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and Copernicus Climate Change Service (CS3) also displayed similar results concerning the rise in global temperatures.  Both NOAA and Copernicus verified that 2020 was the second-warmest year in their records, slightly behind 2016. The average land and ocean surface temperature across the globe in 2020 was 1.76 degrees above average, just 0.04 of a degree cooler than 2016. The UK Met Office also ranked 2020 as the warmest year in Europe as well as globally on record.

‘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,’ says Carlo Buontempo, Director of the Copernicus Climate Change Service.

In 2020, the Northern Hemisphere witnessed above-average temperatures for the year, apart from a region over the central North Atlantic, whereas areas of the Southern Hemisphere saw below-average temperatures, particularly near the eastern equatorial Pacific, which is normally associated with the cooler La Niña Event. It is worth noting that despite the cooling effects of La Nina in 2020, global temperatures were on the same level as 2016, which was influenced by the strong warming El Niño currents. 

Speaking on the effects of rising global temperatures and La Niña, The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) Secretary-General Prof. Petteri Taalas said ‘Record warm years have usually coincided with a strong El Niño event, as was the case in 2016. 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.’ 

The cause of concern is not just the consistent rise in global temperatures, but its impacts across the globe. This includes several high-impact climate anomalies that continue to ravage the planet. Additional findings by NOAA report that 2020 bore witness to a total of 103 storms, 45 hurricanes – including one of the most powerful super typhoons, Goni, which battered the eastern part of the Philippines –  third-highest ocean surface temperatures across Pacific, Atlantic, and Indian oceans after 2016 and 2019, and received the fourth-smallest annual snow cover in the Northern Hemisphere in the 1967-2020 record. Further negative impacts included severe flash flooding across Asia and Africa, as well as heat-induced fires and droughts in South America and the USA. 

Though the last year saw global transportation, industrial, and economic activities suffer a setback due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the reduction in carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere seems optimistic at best. While the Global Carbon Project estimates a 7% reduction in fossil fuel emissions, the figure remains debatable. An analysis of satellite data reveals that CO2 concentrations continued to rise in 2020, reaching an unprecedented global column average of approximately 413.1 ppm.

‘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,’ comments Vincent-Henri Peuch, Director of the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS).

Climate Change requires coordinated international agreements and efforts to reduce global emissions and environmental destruction. With the new President of the United States, Joe Biden, pledging to re-enter the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, the world waits to see if more environmentally friendly mitigation efforts are made in the fight against climate change.

Photo caption: Global temperature anomalies averaged and adjusted to early industrial baseline. Data as of 15 January 2020 (Credit: NASA GISS & NOAA NCEI).

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