Last year was the joint hottest year on record globally, tied with 2016, and the hottest year ever recorded for Europe, according to fresh data released by the Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S).
Scientists had previously speculated that 2020 was going to be one of the hottest years on record but it’s just been confirmed by the C3S. The data indicates that 2020 was 0.6°C (1.08°F) warmer than the standard 1981 to 2010 reference period and around 1.25°C (2.25°F) above levels before the industrial revolution.
While 2020 was on a par with the 2016 record, 2016 was given an extra boost from El Niño, a short-term rising in ocean surface temperature in the tropical Pacific that tends to slightly increase temperatures across the world every two to seven years. 2020, however, did not have this extra advantage – in fact, it was a La Niña year, El Niño's colder counterpart – yet it still managed to rival 2016.
Last year also saw one of the biggest drops in carbon dioxide emissions since the end of World War Two due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Unfortunately, this is highly unlikely to have any meaningful impact on the state of the planet’s climate crisis in the short or long term. The new C3S satellite data also showed that carbon dioxide concentrations have continued to rise in 2020, albeit at a slightly slower rate than previous years, reaching a concentration of 413.1 parts per million in our atmosphere.
“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,” Vincent-Henri Peuch, Director of the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS), explained in a statement.
The year was one of the worst years on record for the Arctic. Off the back of an exceptionally warm decade, the average annual land-surface air temperature in the Arctic measured between October 2019 and September 2020 was the second-warmest since record-keeping began in 1900. As a result of these temperatures, the Arctic endured the second-lowest Arctic minimum sea ice extent. The Siberian Arctic also experienced a freakishly high number of wildfires, surpassing the record-breaking fire activity seen in 2019.
On top of unusually warm temperatures in the northern polar regions, the world also saw a massive uptick in tropical storms in the Atlantic. This year has broken the single-season record for the most named hurricanes in the Atlantic, previously held by the 2005 hurricane season with 28 storms. In fact, that’s so many hurricanes, the World Meteorological Organization exhausted their standard list of alphabetical names for storms and were forced to turn to the Greek alphabet.
"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,” said Carlo Buontempo, Director of the C3S.