Climate warning as last 7 years revealed to be hottest on record: 'Real action'

·Environment Editor
·4-min read

By a ‘clear margin’, the last seven years have been the globe’s hottest on record, new data suggests.

Further analysis by the European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service, concluded the last 30 years (1991 to 2020) have been close to 0.9 degrees above the pre-industrial levels.

Refining its focus to 2021 the agency found surface air temperatures were the fifth highest ever, leading it to renew warnings about the impact of rising greenhouse gas emissions.

Data shows an increase in global-average surface temperatures compared with pre-industrial levels. Source: Copernicus Climate Change Service/ECMWF
Data shows an increase in global-average surface temperatures compared with pre-industrial levels. Source: Copernicus Climate Change Service/ECMWF

During 2021, Europe recorded its hottest ever day when Sicily reached 48.8 degrees, soaring 0.8°C above the previous high.

Extreme weather events rocked the Mediterranean, with horrifying bushfires making world headlines as they tore through Greece, Turkey, Italy and Tunisia.

Severe blazes impacted North America during the summer, but also alarmingly in December when 1100 homes in Colorado were destroyed by an unseasonal grass fire.

Hurricane Ida was one of the USA's deadliest storms, claiming 115 lives, destroying homes, crippling infrastructure, and costing the country an estimated $105 billion (US$75 billion).

Colder parts of the Northern Hemisphere did not escape natural disaster last year, with Germany, Netherlands and Belgium all impacted by flooding.

Even frigid Norway smashed its September heat record, with the city of Drammen reaching 28.6 degrees.

Over 4000km away, Siberia experienced unprecedented bushfires, with NASA advising smoke from the region reached the North Pole for what may have been the first time in recorded history.

Greenhouse gases on the rise as extreme weather impacts planet

Unsurprisingly, Copernicus Climate Change Service also found greenhouse gas levels in 2021 continued to rise.

Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service director Vincent-Henri Peuch said methane and carbon dioxide concentrations show no sign of “slowing down”.

Australia has resisted calls to commit to tough emissions reduction targets despite the impact of natural disasters amplified by extreme weather. Source: Getty
Australia has resisted calls to commit to tough emissions reduction targets despite the impact of natural disasters amplified by extreme weather. Source: Getty

This is despite renewed focus on the climate crisis, after the coronavirus pandemic shifted the topic from the headlines in 2020.

The issue became front and centre of public discourse when world leaders met for the COP26 climate talks talks in November last year.

While some steps were taken to reduce carbon emissions at the conference, many of the world’s biggest emitters including Australia, Russia, India and China were criticised for blocking meaningful action.

That is despite unhealthy levels of pollution being recorded in Chinese and Indian cities and Australia and Russia experiencing horrifying bushfires in recent years.

Extreme weather needs to be a 'punch in the face' to politicians

Climate experts from around the globe have reacted to with dismay to news of increasing carbon emissions.

Imperial College London's Grantham Institute Chair, Professor Brian Hoskins, called for "real action" to tackle the climate crisis.

"It gets difficult to say something new each time we see signs of another nail in the planetary coffin," he said.

The University of Reading's Professor Rowan Sutton said news of rising emissions in 2021 "screams out that the underlying causes have yet to be addressed".

"We should see the record breaking 2021 events, such as the heatwave in Canada and floods in Germany, as a punch in the face to make politicians and public alike wake up to the urgency of the climate emergency," he said.

Australian climate expert warns world on track to heat beyond 1.5 degrees

In Australia, the Climate Councillor and ANU Emeritus Professor Professor Will Steffen said the Copernicus data confirms there has not been an overall drop in emissions during the coronavirus pandemic.

"It was in fact a small drop but rebounded very strongly in 2021 and nearly reached pre-pandemic levels in only 12 months," he said.

Professor Steffen cautioned if the world continues digging up fossil fuels at the current rate the target of limiting heating to 1.5 degrees by 2050 will not be met.

"Currently we’re on track for well beyond 2 degrees," he said.

He fears the world has already forgotten the climate catastrophe warnings made by scientists during COP26, noting the Australian government is continuing to approve fossil fuel developments.

"This is crazy," he said.

"If we don’t stop the expansion of the gas and coal industry now and get emissions down by 50 per cent in the next eight years, we don't have a prayer of meeting the Paris climate goals," he said.

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