WMO global temperature update finds 2020 one of three warmest years on record

A local activist extinguishes a peat fire in a Suzunsky forest next to the village of Shipunovo, 170 kms south from Siberian city of Novosibirsk on September 11, 2020. According to many scientists, Siberia and the Arctic are among the regions most exposed to climate change. They have recorded in recent years records of heat and gigantic fires. Peatland fires represent an additional threat to the climate because peat, when burning, releases a great deal of carbon dioxide. ( Alexander Nemenov/AFP via Getty Images)
The year 2020 shaped up to be one of the three warmest years on record, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said, confirming its earlier projections released in December. 

“The confirmation by the World Meteorological Organization that 2020 was one of the warmest years on record is yet another stark reminder of the relentless pace of climate change, which is destroying lives and livelihoods across our planet,” said United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in a news release on Thursday. 

“We are at 1.2 degrees of warming and already witnessing unprecedented weather extremes in every region and on every continent. We are headed for a catastrophic temperature rise of three to five degrees Celsius this century. Making peace with nature is the defining task of the 21st century. It must be the top priority for everyone, everywhere.”

International data

The conclusion on 2020 was determined through the WMO’s consolidation of international datasets from the United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA); NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (NASA GISS);  the United Kingdom’s Met Office Hadley Centre and the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit (HadCRUT); and reanalysis datasets from the European Centre for Medium Range Weather Forecasts and its Copernicus Climate Change Service, and the Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA).  

The data is gathered through observing sites, ships, global marine network buoys, marine observations and satellites.

The data sets used by the WMO. The average global temperature in 2020 was about 14.9 C above the pre-industrial (1850-1900) level says the WMO. (Met Office/World Meteorological Organization

The datasets used by the WMO found that 2011-2020 was the warmest decade on record, with 2016, 2019 and 2020 being the top three warmest years.

“The temperature ranking of individual years represent only a snapshot of a much longer-term trend,” said WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas. “Since the 1980s each decade has been warmer than the previous one. Heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere remain at record levels and the long lifetime of carbon dioxide, the most important gas, commits the planet to future warming.”

The year 2020 rivalled 2016 as the warmest year on record, but La Niña, a weather pattern that occurs every few years that cools the climate, came at the end of year, tempering some of the warm temperatures, the news release said.

“The exceptional heat of 2020 is despite a La Niña event, which has a temporary cooling effect,” Taalas said. “It is remarkable that temperatures in 2020 were virtually on a par with 2016, when we saw one of the strongest El Niño warming events on record. This is a clear indication that the global signal from human-induced climate change is now as powerful as the force of nature.”

Arctic data among standout features of 2020 
Making peace with nature is the defining task of the 21st century,” said United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres (pictured here in Berlin in December 2020) upon the release of the WMO’s global temperature update. “It must be the top priority for everyone, everywhere.” (Steffi Loos/Getty Images)

Temperature impacts on the Arctic in 2020 were among the most striking features of the year, the WMO said.

The Arctic sea-ice extent in September was the second lowest recorded in 42 years of satellite records. And Siberian wildfires and temperatures in Arctic Russia were some of the most extreme on the planet. In June, a record-breaking 38 degree C temperature was recorded in the Russian town of Verkhoyansk, located above the Arctic Circle in the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia).

The wildfire season in the Russian Arctic was also the most active in the 18-year data record, with long-term damage reported in some ecosystems.

Final report in March

The temperature figures released this week will be incorporated into the WMO’s “State of the Climate in 2020″ report that will be released in March. 

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

Related stories from around the North:

Canada:  Top 5 weather stories in the Canadian North for 2020, CBC News

Finland: Lapland temperature of -39 C marks year’s coldest day so far in Finland, Yle News

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

Russia: What is happening with Arctic weather? Moscow wants to know, The Independent Barents Observer

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

United States: November ranks 2nd hottest on record for the Arctic and globe, Radio Canada International

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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