It was a dead heat between 2016 and 2020 being the hottest year.
Nasa announced on Thursday that the average global land and ocean temperature in 2020 was the highest ever measured, edging out the previous record set in 2016 by less than a tenth of a degree. Talk about a tight race.
However, due to slightly different methods used, the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (Noaa) judged 2020 as fractionally cooler than 2016, while the UK Met Office also put 2020 in a close second place. And as for the European Union’s climate observation program, it put the two years in a dead heat (According to Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology, 2020 was the fourth hottest year on record for Australia with 2019 still clinching the top spot.)
Despite these small differences in measurements, all the datasets have highlighted the long-term heating up of the planet due to the burning of fossil fuels, deforestation and other human activities. Not only was the world struck by a pandemic in 2020, but the last year marked a number of events due to climate change such as soaring temperatures in countries such as the UK and even the Arctic, enormous hurricanes in the Atlantic and unprecedented fires hitting Australia and California.
The world’s seven hottest years on record have now all occurred since 2014, with the 10 warmest all taking place in the last 15 years. There have now been 44 consecutive years where global temperatures have been above the 20th-century average.
Scientists have reported that average temperatures will keep increasing due to the huge amount of greenhouse gases we are expelling into the atmosphere. Gavin Schmidt, director of Nasa’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, told The Guardian: “This isn’t the new normal. This is a precursor of more to come.”
The record, or near-record (you decide which source), heat came despite the moderately cooling influence of La Niña, a periodic climate event. The year also saw the annual average sea ice extent in the Arctic at 3.93m sq miles, the joint smallest on record, tying with 2016, and the average annual snow cover for the northern hemisphere was the fourth lowest on record. With the rising heat in the atmosphere and water, glaciers are melting, sea levels are rising, and these are helping to fuel larger and more destructive storms.
Governments plan to meet later this year in Scotland for crucial UN talks aimed at building upon the Paris deal, which committed countries to avoiding a disastrous global temperature rise of 1.5C from pre-industrial levels.