Last seven years were warmest on record ‘by a clear margin’, say EU scientists

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The last seven years were the warmest on record, scientists announced today as they released new record temperature figures for 2021.

Globally, 2021 was the fifth warmest on record, seeing the hottest summer ever in Europe, with extreme heatwaves in the Mediterranean, vicious wildfires in Greece and dramatic flooding in central Europe.

Preliminary analysis of satellite measurements by the European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service found that polluting greenhouse gas concentrations continued to rise during 2021.

Carbon emissions from wildfires in a year that saw blazes across North America, Europe and the Arctic amounted to 1850 megatonnes, fuelled especially by those in Siberia.

Annual averages of global air temperature at a height of two metres estimated change since the pre-industrial period (left-hand axis) and relative to 1991-2020 (right-hand axis) according to different datasets: Red bars: ERA5 (ECMWF Copernicus Climate Change Service, C3S); Dots: GISTEMPv4 (NASA); HadCRUT5 (Met Office Hadley Centre); NOAAGlobalTempv5 (NOAA), JRA-55 (JMA); and Berkeley Earth. Pic: Copernicus Climate Change Service/ECMWF

‘A punch in the face’

Prof Rowan Sutton from Reading University said we should see the record-breaking weather events in 2021 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”.

And the continued increases in greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere “screams out that the underlying causes have yet to be addressed,” he said.

Levels of climate-heating gases carbon dioxide and methane continued to rise in 2021, Copernicus said.

However they do not yet understand why levels of methane – a particularly potent short-term heating gas – are so high. Its origin is hard to identify as it has many sources, from human-driven ones such as the exploitation of oil and gas fields, to natural sources such as wetlands.

Air temperature at a height of two metres for 2021, shown relative to its 1991–2020 average. Source: ERA5 via Copernicus Climate Change Service/ECMWF

‘Nail in the coffin’

Professor Sir Brian Hoskins from Imperial College London said it has become “difficult to say something new each time we see signs of another nail in the planetary coffin”.

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2021: A year of some of the most extreme weather ever seen

He called the data “yet another warning of what we are doing to our planetary home”.

“Real action to curb our greenhouse gas emissions in the UK and globally is desperately needed.”

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