The last seven years were the warmest in the modern record with 2021 being the fifth warmest due to rising levels of carbon dioxide and methane in the atmosphere, which is a series of natural disaster.
The new data released by Copernicus, the European Earth Monitoring Program, showed that last year global average temperatures were 1.1-1.2C above the pre-industrial average (1850-1900), making it slightly cooler than 2019 and 2020, but still much warmer than previous decades.
Climate change was responsible for the rising temperatures, said Vincent-Henri Peuch, director of atmospheric monitoring at Copernicus.
“Carbon dioxide and methane concentrations continue to increase year by year and without signs of slowing down,” Peuch said. “These greenhouse gases are the main drivers of climate change.”
Atmospheric levels of methane, a warming gas that is 80 times more powerful than carbon dioxide, rose last year – the fastest pace since satellite measurements began.
Human activity is a significant source of methane, due to fossil fuel extraction, waste management and cattle farming, but natural sources of methane, such as from wetlands, also appear to be increasing.
The reasons for the increase are not yet well understood, Copernicus said.
Levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere also rose to their highest average in the modern record in 2021, reaching 414 parts per million, according to the new data. This represents an increase of almost 50 percent compared to pre-industrial levels.
As economic activity increased last year, global carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels increased at an estimated 4.9 percent, after a decline of 5.4 percent in 2020 due to pandemic restrictions, according to calculations by the Cicero Center for International Climate Research in Oslo.
“It was quite surprising the number of records we saw in 2021 broken,” said Samantha Burgess, deputy director of the Copernicus Climate Change Service, pointing to examples such as forest fires across Europe and the heat wave in Canada.
“As we get a warmer atmosphere, it means that those extreme events are becoming more and more likely,” she added. “We know emissions are still rising, so the expectation is that we will see more records break in 2022.”
Last summer was the hottest ever recorded in Europe, and the continent experienced several weather-related disasters, including devastating floods in Germany and Belgium in July.
The region has also experienced heat waves across the Mediterranean, with a new maximum temperature record for Europe of 48.8C set in Sicily.
Temperatures across the Pacific Northwest, Canada and Greenland were also exceptionally warm last year. Severe wildfires in North America have contributed to large-scale emissions of carbon dioxide from burning forests – about 83 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent, the highest ever recorded.
Separate climate analysis for 2021 temperature data from the UK Met Office and from the US NOAA is expected in the coming days.
Carlo Buontempo, director of the Copernicus Climate Change Service, said temperatures would continue to rise without an urgent reduction in emissions.
“These events are a stark reminder of the need to change our ways, take decisive and effective steps towards a sustainable society, and work to reduce net carbon emissions,” he said.
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