The Planet Just Experienced Its Equal Warmest Year in Recorded History

2020 tied with 2016 — and the past six years are the hottest six on record, too.
Sarah Ward
Published on January 17, 2021
Updated on January 17, 2021

Sweltering through increasingly toasty temperatures, the Earth keeps breaking and matching records — ones the planet doesn't want to continue. After notching up its hottest year in recorded history back in 2016, this spinning rock we call home equalled it in 2020. The past six years are now the hottest six on record, too, while the past decade is also the warmest ever recorded.

The news comes via the Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S), which tracks data about the climate now and the past to contemplate the future — not just for Europe, but also for the rest of the world. Compared to the period between 1981–2010, which is commonly used as a reference, 2020 was warmer by 0.6 degrees Celsius. In comparison to pre-industrial times, from 1850–1900 specifically, it was hotter by 1.25 degrees Celsius as well.

That mightn't sound like a huge amount, but it made a big difference in some parts of the globe. Europe experienced its hottest year ever recorded, even beating 2016 by 0.4 degrees Celsius. And in the Arctic and Siberia, temps reached more than six degrees higher than average. That meant that Arctic sea ice was significantly lower than average in the second half of the year — the lowest sea ice extent on record in July and October, in fact.

Announcing the data for the past year, C3S Director Carlo Buontempo said that "2020 stands out for its exceptional warmth in the Arctic and a record number of tropical storms in the north Atlantic. It is no surprise that the last decade was the warmest on record, and is yet another reminder of the urgency of ambitious emissions reductions to prevent adverse climate impacts in the future."


The unwanted milestone also came about as the northern hemisphere mostly experienced higher than average temperatures for the year, while parts of the southern hemisphere had below average temperatures due to cooler La Niña conditions. C3S also advised that 2020 matches the 2016 record despite the cooling effect of La Niña, while 2016 started with a warming El Niño event.

With climate change continuing to show its effects, the news shouldn't come as a surprise. It's still a stark reminder of the current state of the planet, however.

Locally, the Bureau of Meteorology has already advised that Australia sweltered through its fourth warmest year on record in 2020, and ended its hottest decade ever as well.

For more information about the 2020 data from the Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S), head to the C3S website.

Published on January 17, 2021 by Sarah Ward
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