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Fire and Rescue personnel run to move their truck as a bushfire burns next to a major road and homes on the outskirts of the town of Bilpin on December 19, 2019 in Sydney

Fire and Rescue personnel run to move their truck as a bushfire burns next to a major road and homes on the outskirts of the town of Bilpin on December 19, 2019 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo: David Gray/Getty Images)

'Unquestionably Alarming Signs': New Data Confirms Earth Just Had Hottest Decade on Record

2019 was also the second warmest year on record, and the past five years were the five warmest on record.

Andrea Germanos

New data out Wednesday from federal and international scientists that confirmed 2019 was the second-warmest year on record and capped off the warmest decade on record underscores the scale of the global crisis, said climate advocates.

The temperature data was released in the U.S. by NOAA and NASA. The World Meteorological Organization, which consolidates analysis from NOAA and NASA as well as datasets from the U.K.'s Met Office and the University of East Anglia's Climatic Research Unit, the European Centre for Medium Range Weather Forecasts and its Copernicus Climate Change Service, and the Japan Meteorological Agency, also issued its findings Wednesday.

"The decade that just ended is clearly the warmest decade on record," said Gavin Schmidt, director of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies. "Every decade since the 1960s clearly has been warmer than the one before."

The agencies also drew attention to the record warmth from 2015-2019—a time frame that included warmest-year-on-the-books 2016, which, unlike 2019, included a strong El Niño event.

"The past five years have been the five warmest on record; the last decade has been the warmest on record: These are unquestionably alarming signs," said Jean-Noël Thépaut, director of ECMWF Copernicus.

The trajectory the Earth is headed in is leading towards even more dangerous levels of heating.

"On the current path of carbon dioxide emissions, we are heading towards a temperature increase of 3 to 5 degrees Celsius by the end of century," said WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas.

NOAA drew attention to a number of highlights from its latest global climate report:

  • 2019 marks the 43rd consecutive year (since 1977) with global land and ocean temperatures at least nominally above the twentieth-century average. 
  • The five warmest years have occurred since 2015; nine of the 10 warmest years have occurred since 2005. The year 1998 is the only twentieth-century year among the 10 warmest years on record.
  • The annual global land and ocean temperature has increased at an average rate of +0.13°F (+0.07°C) per decade since 1880; however, since 1981 the average rate of increase is more than twice that rate (+0.32°F / +0.18°C).
  • For the 21-year span that is considered a reasonable surrogate for pre-industrial conditions (1880–1900), the 2019 global land and ocean temperature was 2.07°F (1.15°C) above the average.

2020 has heightened concerns over continued warming.

"The year 2020 has started out where 2019 left off—with high-impact weather and climate-related events," said Taalas. "Australia had its hottest, driest year on record in 2019, setting the scene for the massive bushfires which were so devastating to people and property, wildlife, ecosystems, and the environment."

"Unfortunately," he continued, "we expect to see much extreme weather throughout 2020 and the coming decades, fueled by record levels of heat-trapping greenhouse gases in the atmosphere."

Advocacy group 350 Canada, in a tweet, said the need for urgent action to address the climate crisis, including Green New Deal legislation and making those most responsible pay, is clear.

"Last decade was the hottest on record. And 2020 is starting off with climate impacts of an unimaginable scale," the group said. "That is why this decade we make the fossil fuel industry pay for climate justice and fight like hell for a #GreenNewDeal."


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