Earth Draws Closer to Climate Change Tipping Points After Another Year of Record Heat

By | January 8, 2021

Another year of record-high heat punctuated a decade-long increase in global temperatures that has placed the Earth’s economies dangerously close to climate tipping points.

Those are the conclusions published Friday by European Union scientists. Despite pandemic-induced lockdowns of the global economy in 2020, greenhouse gas emissions continued to accumulate in the atmosphere, propelling the world closer to crossing the 1.5 degree Celsius warming threshold that climate models predict will lead to more frequent superstorms and higher sea levels.


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“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,” said Carlo Buontempo, director of the Copernicus Climate Chance Service. “2020 stands out for its exceptional warmth in the Arctic and a record number of tropical storms in the North Atlantic.”

Annual averages of global air temperature at a height of two meters estimated change since the pre-industrial period (left-hand axis) and relative to 1981-2010 (right-hand axis) according to different datasets Credit: Copernicus Climate Change Service

Storms, fires and floods killed at least 8,200 people and cost the world $210 billion in insured losses in 2020, according to a report published Thursday by Munich Re. Six of the most expensive disasters happened in the U.S., including a destructive derecho in the Midwest, a record number of tropical storms and hurricanes strikes, and an all-time high acreage burn in California.

The Copernicus models combine data from scientists in the UK, France, Germany, Italy and the U.S. The agency, which uses billions of measurements from satellites, ships, aircraft and weather stations around the world for its monthly and seasonal forecasts, concluded that 2020 matched 2016 as the world’s hottest on record.

Global temperatures are now just 0.25 degrees Celsius shy of limits set by the Paris climate accord.

Image shows the average ground temperature from 2007-2018. Frozen Arctic soils are set to release vast amounts of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere as they continue to thaw in coming decades. Credit: European Space Agency

The regions of the globe that experienced the most severe climate change were parts of the Arctic and northern Siberia, where temperatures in some regions were more than 6 degrees Celsius higher than average. High temperatures in Siberia threaten to unlock methane deposits from melting permafrost, potentially unleashing runaway climate reactions prompted by higher greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere.

While COVID-19 lockdowns resulted in lower carbon dioxide emissions, they weren’t enough to disrupt the long-term trends, said Vincent-Henri Peuch, director of the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service.

“This is no cause for complacency,” Peuch said. “Until the net global emissions reduce to zero, CO2 will continue to accumulate in the atmosphere and drive further climate change.”

Top photograph: A firefighter monitors a controlled burn while fighting the Dolan Fire near Jolon, Calif., on Wednesday, Sept. 16, 2020.

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  • January 15, 2021 at 1:21 pm
    Reason says:
    History will show Craig is on the wrong side of most things
  • January 12, 2021 at 1:11 pm
    rnr_risk says:
    "History will show that the very people who said they “believed” in climate change could never agree on the right tactics to confront it." So - the obviou,s rational couse... read more
  • January 8, 2021 at 12:30 pm
    Craig Winston Cornell says:
    History will show that the very people who said they "believed" in climate change could never agree on the right tactics to confront it. Only 2 small countries are meeting the... read more

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