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Data: NASA; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

With a moderate La Niña event in the tropical Pacific Ocean, global temperatures in 2021 are running decidedly cooler when compared to recent years.

Why it matters: The lack of a new warmest year record in 2021 could sap some of the sense of urgency among policymakers in the U.S. and abroad during a critical year for enacting stricter emissions cuts to meet the Paris Agreement's targets.

The big picture: According to NASA, March was the coldest such month globally since 2014. New information from the Copernicus Climate Change Service, a European agency, shows that April was also relatively cool, coming in as the seventh-warmest such month since 1979.

  • Europe was hit especially hard by cold snaps during April, breaking records in England and causing an agricultural disaster in France as winemakers saw their crops freeze on the vine.

Yes, but: Even with the recent cold in Europe and the cooling influence of La Niña, the planet is still headed for a top-10 or even top-5 warmest year finish, climate scientist Zeke Hausfather tells Axios. "This is well in line with the long-term warming trend."

Context: Although carbon dioxide emissions temporarily dropped last year in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, that's not the reason for the slight dip in temperatures this year.

  • In fact, greenhouse gases continued to build up in the atmosphere in 2020 into 2021.

Reality check: With human-caused global warming, it's the long-term trends that matter, not single years (despite their convenient news pegs).

  • "Scientists know climate change is happening against a backdrop of natural climate variability: There will always be winters and summers, La Niñas and El Niños," NASA climate scientist Kate Marvel tells Axios.
  • "I like to use a doping analogy: When an athlete uses banned substances, she's more likely to win. But she probably won't win every single time — nor is she expected to," Marvel said.

What we're watching: With drought worsening in the West and wildfires already breaking out, this could be another year in which climate change-fueled disasters dominate headlines in the U.S., negating any effects of a slight pullback in global temperature anomalies.

Go deeper

Ben Geman, author of Generate
May 10, 2021 - Energy & Environment

The newest federal climate officials

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The U.S. International Development Finance Corp. (DFC) on Monday announced its first "chief climate officer" and his deputy as the development bank looks to use billions in financing tools to help combat global warming.

Driving the news: The chief climate officer is Jake Levine, an energy and climate expert who arrives via the law firm Covington & Burling.

Satellites are ushering in a new era of environmental accountability

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Satellites gazing down at Earth from orbit are helping hold governments and corporations accountable for their environmental impacts.

Why it matters: Environmental agreements are hard to enforce without independently verified data. But satellites — with advances in computing — can help monitor deforestation, illegal fishing, pollution and other environmental problems with ease, helping to measure whether governments are hitting their targets.

3,000 unruly passenger reports made to FAA this year

Photo: Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Airlines have reported some 3,000 cases of unruly behavior by passengers to the Federal Aviation Administration this year — including 2,300 for refusing to comply with face mask mandates, the FAA announced Monday.

Why it matters: Passenger numbers remain below pre-pandemic levels. But the FAA is investigating the highest number of suspected federal law violations since it began recording unruly passenger incidents in 1995, per ABC News.