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Bidwell Bar Bridge surrounded by fire during the Bear fire in Oroville, Calif. on September 9, 2020. Photo: Josh Edelson/AFP via Getty Images

Last year tied 2016 as the warmest year ever recorded, capping the end of the warmest decade on record, according to data released Friday by the European Union's Copernicus Climate Change Service.

By the numbers: "2020 was 0.6°C warmer than the standard 1981-2010 reference period and around 1.25°C above the 1850-1900 pre-industrial period," Copernicus said in a summary of their data. The last six years are the six warmest on record, they said.

Threat level: "It is notable that 2020 matches the 2016 record despite a cooling La Niña, whereas 2016 was a record year that began with a strong warming El Niño event," Copernicus said.

Why it matters: The latest evidence of the march of global warming comes at the beginning of what could be a critical year for climate policy in the U.S. and worldwide.

Two of the key reasons why...

  • In the U.S., the incoming Biden administration is vowing to begin work on a suite of domestic emissions-cutting efforts and fresh engagement with other countries.
  • Meanwhile, analysts are looking for details from China, by far the world's largest carbon emitter, about how it will meet its vague pledge last year to have its emissions peak by 2030 and reach "carbon neutrality" by 2060.

The big picture: The EU data arrives as the world is nowhere near on track for the steep emissions cuts that would be consistent with the aims of the Paris climate deal.

  • "[T]he world is still heading for a temperature rise in excess of 3°C this century — far beyond the Paris Agreement goals of limiting global warming to well below 2°C and pursuing 1.5°C," a major UN analysis last month found.

What's next: Copernicus is among several agencies that conduct analyses of temperature records that date back to the late 1800s.

  • Key U.S. climate data agencies — NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration — will release their own data next week, per The Washington Post.
  • "They are expected to rank the year as either the first or second-warmest on record, due to slightly different ways of measuring global temperatures," the Post reports.

Go deeper

Ben Geman, author of Generate
Jan 28, 2021 - Energy & Environment

Microsoft backs direct air capture player Climeworks

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Microsoft this morning disclosed investments in more climate-related companies as part of efforts to make good on its year-old pledge to become "carbon negative" by 2030.

Driving the news: One company the tech behemoth is staking is Climeworks, a firm looking to scale up deployment of direct air capture technology that removes CO2 already in the atmosphere.

Ben Geman, author of Generate
Jan 28, 2021 - Energy & Environment

Takeaways from Biden's sweeping order on climate change

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

President Biden's mammoth executive order on climate policy weighs in at over 7,500 words and resists any single narrative, but I've got a few initial takeaways.

Why it matters: The order aims to marshal the entire federal government behind new initiatives, so that means agencies that may not have the muscle memory or expertise of the resource and environmental branches like EPA and DOE.

Ben Geman, author of Generate
10 mins ago - Energy & Environment

Carbon emissions are roaring back from COVID-19

Expand chart
Data: IEA Global Energy Review 2021; Chart: Axios Visuals

Global energy-related carbon emissions will surge this year as coal, oil and natural gas consumption return from the pandemic that caused an unprecedented emissions decline, the International Energy Agency estimated Tuesday.

Why it matters: The projected rise of nearly 5% would be the largest since the "carbon intensive" recovery from the financial crisis over a decade ago, IEA said, putting emissions just below their 2019 peak.