Many parts of the world experienced unusual levels of warmth last year. Recent reports showed that South America, Europe, Africa, Asia, and Oceania were warmer than the recent average. New national records of temperature were also set in Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, and the UK. In Australia, the mean summer temperature was the highest on record by almost a degree. Overall, global temperatures in 2019 were almost 0.6C warmer than the 1981-2010 average.
The global warming trend over the last five years is considered the hottest since records began in the 19th century with average temperatures between 1.1C and 1.2C higher than pre-industrial times. This made 2010 the hottest decade yet. While many countries have signed the 2015 Paris Agreement to limit global warming to “well below” 2C above pre-industrial times, recent studies reveal that we are far behind in achieving this goal. “This is in line with what we can expect from a global warming trend,” Freja Vamborg, senior scientist at the Copernicus climate change service, said.
According to the BBC, an operational business division of the British Broadcasting Corporation responsible for the gathering and broadcasting of news and current affairs, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) links the record temperatures seen over the past decade to ongoing emissions of greenhouse gases, which came from human activities such as driving cars, cutting down forests, and burning coal for energy. Concentrations of carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide reached new record highs in 2018, the WMO report showed.
The WMO report also revealed that the warming experienced over the past decade is taking its toll on the natural world. Since the start of satellite measurements in 1993, the melting of ice at both poles and sea-level rise has accelerated. The increased heat not only impacts our environment but also humans as heatwaves pose a particular risk.
"Heatwaves and floods which used to be 'once in a century' events are becoming more regular occurrences. Countries ranging from the Bahamas to Japan to Mozambique suffered the effect of devastating tropical cyclones. Wildfires swept through the Arctic and Australia," the WMO's secretary-general Petteri Taalas said.
Europe’s Warmest Year
Of all continents, Europe suffered the most in 2019 as it recorded its warmest year last year. The latest data from the Copernicus Climate Change Service revealed that 2019 was the second warmest year on record and the hottest in Europe by a small margin, ahead of 2014, 2015, and 2018. The report also showed that 11 out of the 12 warmest years in Europe have occurred in the past two decades. Abnormal weather events were also recorded.
While central Europe suffered a drought over the summer, western and southern Europe experienced four times the normal amount of rain at the end of 2019. According to DW.com, a German public international broadcaster, record-breaking levels of rainfall resulted in the wettest November on record for some countries in the continent and flooding across southern and western Europe. The weather in many places on the continent was also 3C to 4C warmer than normal. While the European Arctic region experienced temperatures below the highs seen in recent years, just 0.9C higher than average, recent data shows a clear warming trend across the last four decades.
Prof. Rowan Sutton, director of science (climate) at the UK's National Centre for Atmospheric Science, said that Europe’s temperature has been increasing significantly faster than the global average. "This is for two reasons. First, land regions, in general, are warming faster than the oceans, largely because the greater availability of moisture over the oceans damps the rate of warming. Secondly, reductions in specific forms of air pollution have contributed to the recent warming in Europe, particularly in summer,” Sutton said.
Dr. Robert Rohde, the lead scientist at Berkeley Earth, said that Europe’s summer last year was notable because a very large number of all-time temperature records were set. Previous reports also revealed that France set an all-time high-temperature of 46C last year. Meanwhile, the UK, Belgium, Germany, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands also reported new highs. "Some places in Europe have histories of weather observations going back more than 150 years, and yet still saw new all-time record highs," Rohde said
Heatwaves in Europe
Heatwaves in Europe during summer last year rose and smashed several local and national records. According to EuroNews, a daily dose of international news curated and explained, summer heatwave saw national temperature records being broken across western Europe. Researchers saw 46 degrees in southern France, 42.6 degrees in Germany, and 38.7 degrees in the UK. The report also found out that a heatwave in Greenland last year brought record levels of surface melting, which poses great dangers to Europe’s glaciers.
“The main issue is the long-term trend. This is slowly but surely creeping upwards and as such these kinds of events like heatwaves become more likely,” Vamborg said.
Dr. Rhode agrees with this as the increasing number of record high temperatures is a part of the long-term trend of global warming. "As the Earth warms, it has become easier for weather stations to set new all-time records. In the past, we would usually only see about 2% of weather stations recording a new record high in any given year. But, recently, we sometimes see years, like 2019, with 5% or more of the weather stations recording a new all-time record high,” he explained.
These findings add to the growing evidence of the worsening impacts of climate change. Taalas warned that ignoring the climate crisis would have a greater impact than the pandemic over the next few years. According to The Guardian, a British daily newspaper, the secretary-general said that failure to tackle climate change may threaten human wellbeing, ecosystems, and economies for centuries.
“We need to flatten both the pandemic and climate change curves. We need to show the same determination and unity against climate change as against Covid-19. We need to act together in the interests of the health and welfare of humanity, not just for the coming weeks and months but for many generations ahead,” he said.