Planet Earth experienced its fifth warmest year in recorded history in 2022, adding to a streak in which the last eight years have been the hottest on record, thanks to climate change caused by the burning of fossil fuels.
The 2022 finding was released Tuesday by the European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service, an independent nongovernmental organization. The only years hotter than 2022 in recorded history have been 2016, 2020, 2019 and 2017, the group said.
The cause of rising temperatures has long been established. Hundreds of thousands of scientific studies over decades have concluded that the burning of fossil fuels releases greenhouse gases into the Earth's atmosphere that trap the sun's ultraviolet radiation and result in warming. While government action around the world has begun to try to limit the emissions causing climate change, the pace of that effort has so far failed to keep temperatures from continuing to rise.
Carbon dioxide concentrations rose by approximately 2.1 parts per million and methane rose by around 12 parts per billion, resulting in an average of approximately 417 ppm for carbon dioxide and 1,894 ppb for methane.
“For both gases these are the highest concentrations from the satellite record,” the Copernicus Climate Change Service wrote in its report. “By including other records, they are the highest levels for over 2 million years for carbon dioxide and over 800,000 years for methane.”
Average global temperatures have risen by 2.1 degrees Fahrenheit since the start of the Industrial Revolution. Climate scientists say that is enough to have set off a cascade of consequences, many of which were seen around the world last year.
Climate change has been linked to drought, increased wildfire activity, inundating rains that result in flash flooding, wetter hurricanes that ramp up more quickly, melting ice caps and glaciers that help result in rising sea levels, crop loss, deadly heat waves and the instability of the polar vortex.
Since carbon atoms released into the atmosphere through the burning of fossil fuels can remain there for hundreds of years, the so-called greenhouse effect causing temperatures to rise is expected to continue to worsen over the coming decades, absent a coordinated global effort to dramatically curb emissions.
In April, when the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released its sixth assessment report on the state of the climate, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres summed up the findings.
“We are on a fast track to climate disaster: Major cities under water. Unprecedented heatwaves. Terrifying storms. Widespread water shortages. The extinction of a million species of plants and animals,” Guterres said in a written statement.