(CNN) – The past seven years were the hottest on record, according to new data, as the Earth’s temperature continues its precarious rise due to heat-trapping fossil fuel emissions.
A new analysis by the European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service, which tracks global temperature and other climate indicators, reveals that 2021 was the fifth warmest year on record.
Although the long-term trend is upward, annual fluctuations in global temperature are expected, especially due to large-scale meteorological and ocean patterns, such as El Niño and La Niña, the latter present in 2021 and tending to cause a temperature cooler overall.
“The most important thing is not to obsess over the classification of a particular year, but rather to see the big picture of constantly warming temperatures, and that constant warming does not mean that each year will be warmer than the next,” said Freja Vamborg , Copernicus Principal Scientist. “But that’s what we’ve seen so far, with each decade warmer than the last, and this is very likely to continue.”
According to Copernicus, the average temperature of the Earth is around 1.1 ° C above the average levels of the pre-industrial era, which is 73% of the way towards the 1.5 ° C threshold that scientists They warn that the planet must maintain to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.
Kim Cobb, director of the Global Change Program at the Georgia Institute of Technology, said a warming of 1.1 ° C is a “conservative” estimate.
“It is very fair to say that 1.1 ° C is conservative, because the last half of the last decade has been warmer than the first,” Cobb, who is not involved in the report, told CNN.
Even at 1.1 degrees, 2021 made it very clear that the world is already feeling the unprecedented effects of the climate crisis that many are unprepared for, including major thaws in the Arctic, deadly floods, unprecedented heat waves and historical droughts. Copernicus also found that global concentrations of greenhouse gases, the root cause of the climate crisis and its increasingly severe disasters, continue to rise.
1.1 degrees Celsius
In 2015, world leaders agreed to heed scientists’ warnings and limit the rapid rise in Earth’s temperature to less than 2 ° C above pre-industrial levels, with a preferred target of 1.5 ° C.
That threshold may not sound like a lot, but NASA scientists say it’s similar to how a 1 or 2 degree rise in body temperature can lead to a fever. With each fraction of a degree of warming, the disease worsens and the likelihood of needing hospitalization increases.
In the case of the planet, scientists are tracking the rise in the Earth’s temperature from the baseline at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, in the mid-to-late 19th century, when humans increased the burning of fossil fuels such as fuel. coal and oil.
Cobb says that for every future increase in warming, the latest climate research describes cascading consequences that would threaten all aspects and needs of the Earth, such as biodiversity, fresh water and the food supply.
“We have barely crossed the 1 degree warming threshold and yet we are experiencing a nearly constant series of extreme weather and climate events,” Cobb told CNN. “With rare exceptions, these extremes can definitely be related to human-caused warming. In the future, we must expect the frequency and severity of these extremes to increase, taking a huge toll on societies around the world.”
The year 2021 brought with it heat waves and floods that became mass casualty events; rain fell on the summit of Greenland for the first time in history; and a historic drought ravaged much of the western United States, causing large and destructive wildfires and unprecedented water shortages.
Almost every corner of the world felt the effects of the planet’s rapid warming. The Copernicus researchers pointed to several regions with the highest average temperatures in 2021, from the western United States and Canada to Greenland, as well as wide swaths of central and northern Africa and the Middle East.
Last year’s summer in Europe was the warmest on record, the agency reported, with several extreme weather events wreaking havoc across the continent, including deadly floods in Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands, as well as intense forest fires in the eastern and central Mediterranean.
In North America, the analysis detected periods of incredible temperature deviations from the norm, including the scorching heat wave in the Pacific Northwest and British Columbia. The widespread effects of the Dixie Fire, the second largest ever recorded in California, which spread the noxious smoke across the continent, were also seen.
As symptoms of a feverish planet worsen, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concluded in August that the only way to halt the alarming trend is by drastically reducing emissions. greenhouse gases while eliminating the gases that warm the planet that humans have already introduced into the atmosphere.
An “inspiring” reason for hope
In November, the Climate Action Tracker organization warned that the world is on track to reach 2.4 degrees of warming, if not more, despite countries’ new climate commitments, including those agreed at the UN climate conference. held in Glasgow (COP26).
Experts warned that global greenhouse gas emissions in 2030 will remain about double what is needed to limit warming to 1.5 degrees. Worse, with current policies, not with proposals, but with what countries are doing right now, the organization expects global temperatures to rise a catastrophic 2.7 ° C.
At that time, the planet would be in a critical situation. The Copernicus report showed that carbon emissions continued a precipitous trend in 2021, despite the global pandemic. Emissions of methane, a greenhouse gas roughly 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide in the short term, continued to rise “very substantially.”
Vamborg noted that the report serves as a reminder that increased greenhouse gas emissions are fueling the planet’s rapid warming, adding that “the global temperature curve will continue to rise as long as we continue to emit greenhouse gases.”
Humanity’s payoff for keeping the planet from exceeding 1.5 ° C, Cobb said, should be more than enough to spark bold and collective action. Choosing to limit fossil fuel emissions to that point could “potentially cool the planet in the second half of this century.”
“The idea that we can live to see a reversal of global warming is inspiring, as generations have witnessed decade after decade of warming,” Cobb said. “It is a future that is worth fighting for and giving life for, one energy option at a time.”