2020 shaping up to be among warmest years on record says WMO

Siberian temperatures were up to 10 degrees above average in May, something that the “exceptionally early” break up of ice on Siberia’s rivers likely contributed to, the World Meteorological Organization said earlier this year, just one of the exteme temperature variations recorded around the world in the first 10 months of 2020. (World Meteorological Organization)
This year is shaping up to be among warmest years on record with extreme temperatures observed around the world, including the Arctic, says the World Meteorological Organization (WMO).

 “2020 has, unfortunately, been yet another extraordinary year for our climate,” said WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas upon the release of the organization’s provisional State of the Global Climate 2020, on Wednesday. 

“We saw new extreme temperatures on land, sea and especially in the Arctic, ” he said in a news release. 

The provisional report outlines 2020 temperature extremes for the first 10 months of 2020 and describes them of some of the most extreme being found above the Arctic Circle.

“..the Arctic stands out as the region with the largest temperature deviations from the long-term average,” the provisional report says.

“Contrasting conditions of ice, heat and wildfires were seen in the eastern and western Arctic. A strongly positive phase of the Arctic Oscillation during winter 2019-20 set the scene early in the year, with higher than average temperatures across Europe and Asia and well-below average temperatures in Alaska, a pattern which persisted through much of the year.”

Siberian extremes

Among some of the temperature extremes this year was a record-breaking 38 degree C temperature reported in the Russian Arctic earlier this month. The reading was reported on June 20 in the Russian town of Verkhoyansk, located above the Arctic Circle in the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia) in the eastern Siberian region of Russia. 

The region also experienced temperature anomalies of more than three degrees from January to October while in some of the central coastal parts of Siberia they were more than 5 C above average.

“Sea ice in the Laptev Sea, offshore from the area of highest temperature anomalies on land, was unusually low through the summer and autumn,” the report said. “Indeed, sea ice extent was particularly low along the Siberian coastline, with the Northern Sea Route ice-free or close to ice free from July to October.”

In this July 21, 2017 file photo, researchers look out from the Finnish icebreaker MSV Nordica as the sun sets over sea ice in the Victoria Strait along the Northwest Passage in Canada’s Arctic Archipelago. The Canadian Arctic avoided many of the extremes seen elsewhere thus year, and sea ice conditions along the Canadian archipelago were close to average says the WMO provisional report. (David Goldman/AP Photo)

Meanwhile, some other Arctic regions, including Greenland and Alaska, saw close-to or below-average temperatures, with sea ice conditions in Canada, also close to average.

” … the 2019-20 surface mass balance for Greenland was close to the 40-year average,” the report said.

“Nevertheless, the decline of the Greenland ice sheet continued during the 2019-20 season, but the loss was below the typical amounts seen during the last decade. Sea ice conditions along the Canadian archipelago were close to average at the September minimum and the western passage remained closed.”

But globally sea ice loss continued to raise alarms.

“Arctic sea-ice reached its annual minimum in September, as the second lowest in the 42-year-old satellite record,” the report said. “Arctic sea ice for July and October 2020 was the lowest on record.”


Wildfires have also been up in the first ten months of 2020, but with huge regional differences.

While Yukon, the Northwest Territories, and Alaska experienced wildfire activity far below the average,  the drier than average weather in Siberia led to record burns.

A photo of this year’s Siberian wildfires in the Krasnoyarsk region of Russia. Scientists say the fires are released record amounts of greenhouse gases this year. (Julia Petrenko/Greenpeace)

“Regional reports for eastern Siberia indicate that the forest fire season started earlier than average, and for some regions ended later, resulting in long-term damage to local ecosystems,” the report said.

“The region north of the Arctic circle saw the most active wildfire season in an 18-year data record, as estimated in terms of fire radiative power and CO2 emissions released from fires.”

Greenhouse gases rise despite pandemic lockdowns

Although there was some speculation in the first part of the year that the pandemic-related economic slowdown might lower CO2 emissions, the report says that has turned out not to be the case.

“Despite the COVID-19 lockdown, atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases continued to rise, committing the planet to further warming for many generations to come because of the long lifetime of CO2 in the atmosphere,” says the report.

Taalas said the recent data shows the importance of the world community’s sticking to their Paris climate accord commitments, to keep global temperature increase to less than 2 C above pre-industrial levels.

“The average global temperature in 2020 is set to be about 1.2 °C above the pre-industrial (1850-1900) level,” Taalas said. “There is at least a one in five chance of it temporarily exceeding 1.5 °C by 2024.

“This year is the fifth anniversary of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. We welcome all the recent commitments by governments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions because we are currently not on track and more efforts are needed.”

Final report out next year

The provisional report looked at data from the first ten months of 2020. It’s based on information from experts and international organizations.

The final 2020 report will be published in March 2021.

Write to Eilis Quinn at eilis.quinn(at)cbc.ca

Related stories around the North:

Canada: Climate change creating vast new glacial lakes, with risk of ‘gargantuan’ floods, researcher says, The Canadian Press

Greenland: Rise in sea level from ice melt in Greenland and Antarctica match worst-case scenario: study, CBC News

Russia: Northern climate change will cost country €99 billion says Russia’s Minister of the Arctic, Eye on the Arctic

Sweden:  Reducing emissions could create up to 3,000 new jobs in Arctic Sweden says mining group, Eye on the Arctic

United States: Indigenous wildfire knowledge to be key part of new Arctic Council project, Eye on the Arctic

Eilís Quinn, Eye on the Arctic

Eilís Quinn is an award-winning journalist and manages Radio Canada International’s Eye on the Arctic news cooperation project. Eilís has reported from the Arctic regions of all eight circumpolar countries and has produced numerous documentary and multimedia series about climate change and the issues facing Indigenous peoples in the North.

Her investigative report "Death in the Arctic: A community grieves, a father fights for change," about the murder of Robert Adams, a 19-year-old Inuk man from Arctic Quebec, received the silver medal for “Best Investigative Article or Series” at the 2019 Canadian Online Publishing Awards. The project also received an honourable mention for excellence in reporting on trauma at the 2019 Dart Awards in New York City.

Her report “The Arctic Railway: Building a future or destroying a culture?” on the impact a multi-billion euro infrastructure project would have on Indigenous communities in Arctic Europe was a finalist at the 2019 Canadian Association of Journalists award in the online investigative category.

Her multimedia project on the health challenges in the Canadian Arctic, "Bridging the Divide," was a finalist at the 2012 Webby Awards.

Her work on climate change in the Arctic has also been featured on the TV science program Découverte, as well as Le Téléjournal, the French-Language CBC’s flagship news cast.

Eilís has worked for media organizations in Canada and the United States and as a TV host for the Discovery/BBC Worldwide series "Best in China."

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