Last year is tied for hottest equal in history (and last decade was the hottest ever)

Rob Waugh
·Contributor
·3-min read

Watch: 2020 with 2016 as world's hottest year on record

Global temperatures and atmospheric carbon levels have continued to soar despite coronavirus lockdowns in 2020, new statistics have shown.

European climate-change monitoring service Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S) says 2020 is tied with 2016 as the warmest year ever – and is sixth in a series of exceptionally warm years starting in 2015.

The decade from 2011-2020 is the warmest in history, scientists at C3S said - with particular surges in the Arctic and Siberia.

The winter from December 2019 to February 2020 was warmer than the previous warmest by almost 1.4C, the C3S scientists say.

SOUTHEND-ON-SEA, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 14: Two people sit on deck chairs on the beach as people walk out into the sea on September 14, 2020 in Southend on Sea, England. Parts of the UK are expected to hit 29 degrees celsius as the country experiences a late-summer Heatwave.  (Photo by John Keeble/Getty Images)
Two people sit on deck chairs on the beach as people walk out into the sea on September 14, 2020 in Southend on Sea, England in last year's heatwave (Photo by John Keeble/Getty Images)

In Europe, 2020 was 0.4C warmer than 2019, previously the continent’s warmest year.

Read more: A 1988 warning about climate change was mostly right

C3S director Carlo Buontempo commented: "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."

C3S data showing how temperatures have soared since the 80s. (C3S)
C3S data showing how temperatures have soared since the 80s. (C3S)

Despite a drop in carbon emissions caused by coronavirus lockdowns around the world, carbon levels in the atmosphere soared in 2020.

The Global Carbon Project said there was a reduction of around 7% of fossil CO2 emissions due to lockdowns.

CO2 levels in the atmosphere continued to rise, reaching 413 parts per million, slightly less than the growth rate of the previous year.

Vincent-Henri Peuch, director of the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service, said: “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.”

Read more: Melting snow in Himalayas drives growth of green sea slime visible from space

Peuch added: “To what extent [the pandemic] was a factor in the lower total increase is debatable though, as the variations in global growth rate are dominated by natural processes. We must continue efforts to decrease CO2 net emissions to reduce the risk of climate-related change.”

Parts of the Arctic and northern Siberia saw some of the largest annual temperature deviations from average in 2020, with a large region seeing deviations of as much as 3C and in some locations even over 6C for the year as a whole.

The last 12-month period was close to 0.7°C warmer than average, matching the warmest 12-month period.

Previous research suggested that thawing permafrost could create a dangerous “feedback” in global warming by releasing greenhouse gases.

The feedback mechanism (combined with the loss of heat-reflecting white ice) could increase global warming by 5%, reports suggested.

Read more: Melting snow in Himalayas drives growth of green sea slime visible from space

In the Arctic region, temperatures have risen by 2C since the 19th century, more than double the figure elsewhere.

The permafrost in Russia and Canada contains up to 1.5 trillion tonnes of carbon dioxide, 40 times the amount released annually.

Watch: How 2020 panned out for weather and wildlife