Last year tied 2016 for hottest on record, further accelerating the melting of the Arctic region and fuelling a spate of deadly droughts, heat waves, and wildfires around the world. And this surge in warmth occurred despite the cooling presence of La Niña.
“The global average temperature in 2020 was about 1.25°C warmer than the average from 1850 to 1900, before the rise of emissions from spreading industrialization,” reports the New York Times, citing data just released by the European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service.
Europe was particularly hard hit, with temperatures soaring 0.4°C above the region’s 2019 record—making last year its warmest year ever. North America sweltered, too, with record heat playing “a critical role” in the widespread drought and wildfires that ravaged so much of the American west.
Worst hit, however, was the Arctic, which continues to warm faster than anywhere else on Earth. “Average temperatures in some parts of the Arctic were more than 6°C higher last year than a baseline average from 1981 to 2010. Europe, by contrast, was 1.6°C higher last year than the same baseline,” writes the Times.
The heat fuelled a devastating fire season across Siberia.
And it could have been even hotter. The record temperatures in 2020 “occurred despite the development in the second half of the year of La Niña, a global climate phenomenon marked by surface cooling across much of the equatorial Pacific Ocean.”
The equally high temperatures of 2016, on the other hand, were partially driven by El Niño, which “tends to supercharge” temperatures across the planet.
“So 2020 and 2016 being equally warm…means that the last five years of global warming have had a cumulative effect that is about the same as El Niño,” the Times writes.