Despite reduced emissions our climate continues to ‘hot up’

Temperature data released by the European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S) shows that the climate crisis continued unabated in 2020, with the joint highest global temperatures on record, alarming Arctic heat, record wildfires and record a record 29 tropical Atlantic storms. Despite a 7% global fall in carbon of 2.4bn tonnes reduced emissions from fossil fuels to about 34bn tonnes of carbon dioxide in 2020, due to coronavirus lockdowns, heat-trapping carbon dioxide continued to build up in the atmosphere, also setting a new record. The average surface temperature across the planet in 2020 was 1.25C higher than in the pre-industrial period of 1850-1900, dangerously close to the 1.5C target set by the world’s nations

Only 2016 matched last year’s heat, but that year saw a natural El Nino climate event which boosts temperatures. Without that it is likely 2020 would have been the outright hottest year. Scientists have warned that without urgent action the future for many millions of people “looks black”. Copernicus Climate Change Service showed that the past six years have been the hottest six on record.

Dave Reay, professor of carbon management at Edinburgh University, who was not involved with the study, said the record drop of 7% was still only a “drop in the ocean” when it came to the stock of carbon dioxide humanity has already pumped into the atmosphere, which is expected to reach 412 parts per million (ppm) next year. It is the stock of atmospheric carbon that determines the impact on the climate, and stabilising the level of carbon in the atmosphere will require the whole world to meet net-zero emissions.

The UK showed the second biggest fall in emissions globally, down 13% for the year compared with 2019, with only France showing a larger drop, of 15%. The plunge reflects the prolonged and severe lockdowns in both countries, with surface transport particularly affected. However, greenhouse gas emissions are set to rebound this year as restrictions are lifted and governments strive to return their economies to growth, according to a global study.

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