Global Temperatures Already 1.2ºC Above Pre-Industrial Levels

This decade will be the hottest on record, with the warmest six years all happening since 2015.

Global Temperatures Already 1.2ºC Above Pre-Industrial Levels
Protestor at a climate awareness rally holds up a sign of the Earth on fire. (Source: Unsplash)

Global temperatures from January to October were around 1.2 degrees Celsius (2.2 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels, putting 2020 on track to being one of the three warmest years on record.

This decade will be the hottest on record, with the warmest six years all happening since 2015, according to the World Meteorological Organization’s annual State of the Global Climate 2020 report published Wednesday. 

“To put it simply, the state of the climate is broken,” United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres said after the report was released. “Humanity is waging war on nature and this is suicidal —nature always strikes back and it is already doing so.”

There is at least a 20% chance that global average temperatures temporarily increase by more than 1.5 degrees Celsius by 2024, from 1850 to 1900 levels, the UN agency estimated. In the 2015 Paris Agreement, countries pledged to take action to cut greenhouse gas emissions in order to keep global warming below 2ºC and ideally close to 1.5ºC by the end of this century. 

A 1.5ºC warming is considered the best-case scenario for climate change given the current warming trend. But scientists on the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change still predict that it will result in more frequent and intense heatwaves, heavy precipitation and drought in several regions.

“We are headed for a thundering temperature rise of 3 to 5 degrees Celsius this century,” Guterres said. “Human activities are at the root of our descent toward chaos —making peace with nature is the defining task of the 21st century.” 

Apocalyptic fires, floods, storms and hurricanes are increasingly the new normal, Guterres said. Natural disasters cost the world a total of $150 billion last year. The trillions announced globally to recover from the coronavirus pandemic have to be borrowed from future generations and can’t be spent on locking in policies that will burden them, he said. 

The most notable warming in 2020 happened in the Siberian Arctic, according to the WMO report. Temperatures for the first 10 months of the year there were more than 5ºC above average, fueling the most active wildfire season in 18 years on record. At the same time, Arctic sea ice was exceptionally low most of the year. 

Greenland lost 152 billion tons of ice this year, a slower rate than 2019. Antarctic ice in 2020 was close to or slightly above the 42-year mean, the report said. 

Oceans, which have absorbed 93% of heat captured by greenhouse gases since the 1970s, registered record heat levels, the WMO said. Provisional data in the report showed more than 80% of the ocean experienced a marine heatwave at some time during this year, with marine ecosystems already suffering from more acidic waters as a consequence of carbon dioxide absorption. 

Natural disasters led to 10 million people being displaced during the first half of the year, mainly concentrated in South and Southeast Asia and the Horn of Africa. The Covid-19 outbreak added another layer of risk to evacuation, recovery and relief operations. 

Extreme weather events also contributed to food insecurity, which started to increase in 2014 after decades of decline. Over 50 million people have been hit twice this year—by climate-related disasters and the pandemic. 

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.