The climate crisis emphatically left its mark on 2020. Given the record-breaking intensity of climate disasters like hurricanes, wildfires and heatwaves, together with CO2 emissions from human activities that drive up temperatures, it’s no wonder that Earth was the hottest it has ever been.
The warmer the planet, the more extreme the weather
NASA analysed temperatures measured over land from more than 26 000 weather stations around the world and thousands of ocean temperature observations from buoys and ships. There were far too many firsts. According to NASA, the average worldwide land and ocean temperature in 2020 was the highest ever measured. Since the late-1800s, Earth’s average temperature has risen more than 1.2 °C. The average global temperatures in 2020 were 1 °C warmer than the average during the period 1951-1980. In addition, the past decade was the warmest on record. The world’s warmest 6 years on record have all occurred since 2015, with the 10 warmest in the last 15 years. For the last 44 consecutive years, global temperatures have been above the 20th-century average.
Alarming warming trend
“The last seven years have been the warmest seven years on record, typifying the ongoing and dramatic warming trend,” commented Goddard Institute for Space Studies Director Gavin Schmidt in a NASA press release. “The previous record warm year, 2016, received a significant boost from a strong El Niño. The lack of a similar assist from El Niño this year is evidence that the background climate continues to warm due to greenhouse gases.” Dr Schmidt added: “Whether one year is a record or not is not really that important – the important things are long-term trends. With these trends, and as the human impact on the climate increases, we have to expect that records will continue to be broken.” Even though greenhouse gases have declined around the world because of COVID-19, it’s not enough to reverse temperatures that keep crawling upwards. “This isn’t the new normal,” Dr Schmidt told ‘The Guardian’. “This is a precursor of more to come.” António Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations, sent a sobering reminder: “We are headed for a catastrophic temperature rise of 3-5 ⁰C this century. Making peace with nature is the defining task of the 21st century. It must be the top priority for everyone, everywhere.”
Earth, NASA, climate, greenhouse gas, 2020, temperature