Record sea level, greenhouse gases

The sun sets behind smoke from a distant wildfire as drought conditions worsen near Glennville, California on July 12, 2021.

David McNew | Getty Images

A year after the coronavirus pandemic shut down businesses, reduced ground flights and vehicle traffic around the world, scientists say the resulting temporary drop in CO2 emissions had no lasting impact on climate change.

According to the new report “State of the Climate in 2020” by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, many metrics on the health of the planet have declined significantly in the past year.

The NOAA report, published in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, confirms that, despite a 6 to 7% decrease in emissions from reduced activity during the pandemic, the concentration of greenhouse gases in the Earth’s atmosphere is still at the highest level ever was ever measured last year.

Scientists also confirmed other records in 2020, including:

  • The highest annual increase in the concentration of methane, a powerful climate-changing gas
  • Average global surface temperatures were among the hottest on record
  • Sea level reaches the highest value ever recorded
  • Oceans absorbed a record amount of carbon dioxide
  • 2020 was the hottest year on record without an El Niño.

The results come shortly after a sharp analysis by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which warned that limiting global warming to nearly 1.5 degrees Celsius, or even 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, over the next two decades would not be immediate far-reaching reductions in greenhouse gas emissions will not be possible.

The annual global average carbon dioxide concentration at the earth’s surface was 412.5 ppm, about 2.5 ppm more than in 2019, the highest in at least 800,000 years, according to the NOAA report.

Last year there was also a record increase in emissions of methane, which remains in the atmosphere for a shorter time than carbon dioxide but causes about 84 times as much warming over this period.

Above-average temperatures were common around the world last year. In Europe, 2020 was the hottest year on record, with all five of the warmest years occurring since 2014, the report said.

The average surface air temperature over land in the Arctic last year was the highest ever recorded in 121 years. The Arctic also experienced its highest forest fire year in 2020.

In central Siberia, where most of the forest fires burned, record high spring temperatures triggered rapid snowmelt, which, according to the report, contributed to the continent’s fourth smallest snow cover in May and smallest snow cover in June.

The US also saw a record number of costly disasters in 2020 as climate change causes more frequent and intense hurricanes, forest fires and floods.

The country has had a total of 22 climate disasters, each costing more than $ 1 billion, breaking the previous annual record of 16 disasters the country witnessed in both 2011 and 2017, the report said. Wildfires in the western United States also burned nearly 10.3 million acres from California to Colorado, most of the country has seen in over two decades.

Looking ahead, 2021 has already broken some of the records from last year.

July was the hottest month ever. And a heat wave that scientists say would be made “virtually impossible” without climate change hit the Pacific Northwest and Canada, causing hundreds of heat-related deaths.

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