Jan 10, 2022 - Energy & Environment

The last 7 years have been Earth's 7 hottest

Map showing 2021 temperature departures from the 1981-2010 average. (Copernicus Climate Change Service/ECMWF)

The past seven years have been the seven hottest on record, according to the European Union's Copernicus Climate Change Service, which released new global temperature data this morning.

Why it matters: The data shows in vivid detail that, even though 2021 was relatively cool compared to other recent years, it still ranked as the fifth warmest year and continued a trend driven by ever-growing amounts of greenhouse gases in the air.

The big picture: According to Copernicus, the annual global average surface temperature was 1.1-1.2°C (1.98-2.16°F) above pre-industrial levels (1850-1900).

Details: Europe had its hottest summer on record, and saw deadly extreme weather events, such as the flooding that hit Germany, Belgium and several other countries in July. A study subsequently found that climate change made those floods more severe.

  • The areas with the most unusual warmth during 2021 included the U.S. West Coast, parts of Canada and Greenland, much of central and northern Africa and the Middle East.
  • The regions that saw cooler-than-average conditions, relative to the 1991-2020 average, were in Siberia, Alaska, parts of the Pacific Ocean, and most of Australia, Copernicus found.
  • During a sizzling heat wave last summer, a preliminary European heat record was set in Sicily, where the temperature reached 48.8°C (120°F).
  • Copernicus researchers found wildfire-generated greenhouse gas emissions from North America were the highest on record since such data began in 2003, as the U.S. and Canada contended with massive blazes.

Of note: Both methane and carbon dioxide, two of the leading planet-warming gases, reached new highs in 2021, with methane making a particularly large jump.

Go deeper: U.S. greenhouse gas emissions jumped in 2021

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