All of the last eight years were the warmest on record, data shows

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All of the last eight years were the warmest on record, government data shows

Even the cold years are hot now. A slew of new data and reports released this week demonstrates that 2022 was either the fifth or sixth warmest year in the historical record — but the last eight years all rank somewhere in the eight hottest ever measured.

Last year ranked highly despite the presence of the Pacific Ocean weather pattern known as La Niña, which helps cool the globe. And the U.S. and the world remain far off track in trying to fix the deepening planetary warming crisis.

“The last eight [years] clearly stand above the rest of the record,” said Russell Vose, a scientist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) National Centers for Environmental Information, during a Thursday press briefing on NOAA and NASA’s joint reports on 2022′s global climate. “The last eight years, they really do stand apart.”

NOAA found that last year ranked as the sixth-warmest year in its record dating to 1880, at 0.86 degrees Celsius (1.55 degrees Fahrenheit) above the 20th-century average. NASA ranked it slightly higher, in a statistical tie with 2015 for fifth warmest, at 0.89 degrees C (1.6 degrees F) above a 1951 to 1980 baseline. The two science agencies use slightly different methods to determine the global average temperatures, though the longer-term temperature trends those methods find are essentially the same.

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Last year featured La Niña conditions in the tropical Pacific Ocean, which tends to bring global temperatures down. In fact, NASA estimates that La Niña brought the global average down by 0.06 C; the opposite weather pattern known as El Niño has bumped global averages up by as much as 0.11 C in recent years, such as 2016, the warmest year ever recorded. If you remove the effects of La Niña, 2022 would have gone down as the second-warmest year in the record books.

“This is, of course, the warmest La Niña year in the record,” said Gavin Schmidt, director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies.

And while it was not the hottest year ever recorded, 2022 was marked by a cavalcade of extreme weather events — from the record-breaking and deadly heat wave in India and Pakistan to Hurricane Ian’s destructive rains in the southeast U.S.

According to a NOAA analysis released last week, 2022 was the “third-wildest” year for extreme weather events in the U.S. The country recorded 18 weather- and climate-related disasters that caused losses of at least $1 billion each, along with a collective death toll of at least 474.

Warmer, everywhere

Other organizations have echoed the NOAA and NASA findings in recent days. The independent nonprofit research organization Berkeley Earth also slotted 2022 in at fifth in the rankings, though the group also noted that it was in a statistical tie with 2015. The United Kingdom’s Met Office ranked it sixth and noted that this was the ninth consecutive year with a global average temperature more than 1 C (1.8 F) above the preindustrial average from 1850 to 1900. The World Meteorological Organization placed it either fifth or sixth and stressed as well that the last eight years have been the eight warmest years ever.

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Regionally, a number of places saw records fall even as the global averages only scraped the edge of the top five warmest years. Berkeley Earth noted that 28 countries experienced their warmest ever year, including much of western Europe.

“This means a substantial fraction of the world’s population has just lived through the warmest year in their local history — with disruptive and sometimes even deadly consequences,” said the organization’s lead scientist Robert Rohde in a statement.

The Met Office confirmed last week that 2022 was the U.K.’s warmest year on record; the country’s average temperature for the entire year exceeded 10 C (50 F) for the first time ever. The deadly heat wave that hit in July yielded the U.K.’s first-ever temperature above 40 C (104 F). France’s Météo-France also recently confirmed that 2022 was its warmest year ever, with an average temperature of 14.5 C (58.1 F) exceeding the previous record — set in 2020 — by nearly half a degree Celsius.

A dire emissions picture

Though it can take longer to get a complete picture of emissions than temperature, preliminary analyses suggest 2022 was also a bad year for efforts to start limiting those skyrocketing temperatures. The Rhodium Group, an independent research firm, estimated that U.S. greenhouse gas emissions rose by 1.3 percent over 2021 levels.

Though this was the second year in a row of rising emissions — 2020 saw a huge dip domestically and globally in carbon emissions thanks to the pandemic, with a rebound in 2021 — they noted that the jump was less than the country’s increase in gross domestic product, likely a result of switching out coal for somewhat cleaner-burning natural gas and an increase in renewable energy use.

Globally, it may be some time before the specific numbers on 2022 emissions are available, but projections paint an ugly picture. In all likelihood, the world emitted more greenhouse gases last year than in any year in history; the only bright side is that, just as in the U.S., the growth in emissions dipped somewhat from the previous year.

Both in the U.S. and abroad, these numbers don’t bode well for emissions and temperature targets set domestically and internationally. The Biden administration has set a goal of halving emissions from 2005 levels by 2030. The Inflation Reduction Act, the landmark legislation passed last year with hundreds of billions in incentives for clean energy and efficiency improvements, helps put the country on track to get much of the way there, to around 40 to 42 percent lower than 2005 emissions levels. But there is clearly still room for improvement.

The Paris Agreement set an aspirational goal to keep warming to 1.5 C (2.7 F) above pre-industrial levels. But the latest national emissions pledges, if fulfilled completely, won’t come close to achieving that goal. In fact, it would likely send global temperatures soaring past 2 degrees all the way toward 2.8 C (4.9 F), a scenario scientists agree would be catastrophic.

1.5 on the horizon

Current projections regarding the El Niño/Southern Oscillation, the overall system that produces El Niño or La Niña conditions, suggest the system is likely to flip to neutral by the spring — meaning it will neither cool nor warm the globe substantially. Specifically, there’s an 82 percent chance of that change. It isn’t yet known when it might flip to El Niño — Schmidt said it’s difficult to project beyond a few months — but when it does, the overall records will start to fall once more.

Though a consistent global average above the 1.5-degree threshold is still likely one to two decades away, Vose said the yearly variations and influence of the Pacific oscillation could yield an individual year beyond that landmark sooner rather than later.


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“There’s probably a, I don’t know, 50 percent chance that we have one year in the 2020s that maybe jumps above 1.5 [degrees],” he said.

Schmidt added that the current rate of warming of just over 0.2 C per decade, and our current position at around 1.1 degrees above pre-industrial temperatures, means 1.5 degrees is likely two decades away. But an individual year jumping to the top of the record books and bringing all the attendant catastrophe with it is not far off.

“The first year with a 1.5 [degree] anomaly will be an El Niño year, probably in the early 2030s,” he said.

Thanks to Brett Zach for copy editing this article.

  • Dave Levitan
    Dave Levitan

    Climate Reporter

    Dave Levitan is a climate reporter for Grid where he focuses on interconnected stories about climate and science, and politics shaping action around both.