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Photo: David McNew/Getty Images

2020 was the second-hottest year on record, according to an analysis by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration scientists.

Why it matters: It's the second year in a row the Earth has experienced near-record heat, offering more evidence of the effects of global warming at the beginning of what could be a critical year for climate policy in the U.S. and around the globe, writes Axios Ben Geman.

By the numbers: Land and ocean surface temperatures were recorded at an average of 1.76°F (0.98°C) above the 20th-century average — and just 0.04°F (0.02°C) cooler than in 2016, which was the hottest year on record.

  • It was the hottest year ever recorded for the Northern Hemisphere, which saw temperatures at 2.3°F (1.28°C) above the 20th-century average.
  • The new numbers knock 2019 down to the third-hottest year on-record. That year, the average temperature was 1.71°F (0.95°C) above the 20th-century average.

The big picture: The NOAA analysis comes one week after a study by the European Union's Copernicus Climate Change Service ranked 2020 as tied with 2016 for the hottest year on record.

Go deeper

Coronavirus cases fall in 41 states

Expand chart
Data: The COVID Tracking Project, state health departments; Map: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

New coronavirus infections fell by 16% over the past week — the third straight week of significant improvement.

Yes, but: The U.S. is still averaging roughly 165,000 new cases per day, meaning the virus is still spreading largely unchecked. And the rise of more contagious variants will ensure that Americans’ risk remains high.

Updated 3 hours ago - Sports

The potential GOAT of chess faces intriguing challenger

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The World Chess Championship between Norway's Magnus Carlsen and Russia's Ian Nepomniachtchi began on Friday, 1,094 days after Carlsen won his fourth consecutive title.

Why it matters: During the long, COVID-fueled layoff, chess entered a new era, and with the championship finally here, the age-old game is ready for its close-up.

Department of Interior proposes raising cost of drilling on public lands

A horizontal drilling rig and a pump jack sit on federal land in Lea County, New Mexico. Photo: Callaghan O'Hare/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Oil and gas companies should pay more to drill on federal lands and waters, the Department of the Interior argued in a report released Friday, saying that the current rates were "outdated."

Driving the news: The Department of Interior report said that the federal government's oil and gas leasing and permitting program "fails to provide a fair return to taxpayers, even before factoring in the resulting climate-related costs that must be borne by taxpayers."