United States government agencies on Wednesday said the decade ended 2019 was the hottest on record, and that the year gone by was the second hottest ever.
The announcement about 2019 was the same as the one by the European weather agency’s Copernicus climate change programme earlier this month — which confirmed the projection by the World Meteorological Organisation at the COP25 Madrid climate summit that 2019 was on course to end up as the second or third hottest year ever.
On January 7, the India Meteorological Department (IMD) declared the 2010-19 decade to have been India’s hottest since records began in 1901, with the average temperature 0.36 degrees Celsius higher than the 30-year 1981-2010 average. 2019 was the country’s seventh hottest year on record.
ANALYSES by the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) showed that global average surface temperatures last year were nearly 1 degree Celsius higher than the average from the middle of last century.
NASA and NOAA use mostly the same temperature data, which is gathered at sea from ships and buoys, and on land from observation stations that are coordinated by US government meteorological agencies. The conclusion of the Copernicus programme, run by the European Centre for Medium Range Weather Forecasting was, by contrast, based much more on computer modelling than on observational data.
SINCE THE 1960s, each decade has been significantly warmer than the previous one. This trend continued in the 2010s, and five of the hottest years ever were experienced in the second half of the decade. The warming is caused to a large extent by the emissions of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases from the burning of fossil fuels. That pace of warming means the world will almost certainly fail to meet the goals set to combat catastrophic climate change.
CLIMATE HOTSPOTS of 2019 include Australia, Alaska and southern Africa. Central Canada and the northern US were among the few places that experienced cooler-than-average conditions.
In Australia, 2019 was the hottest year on record, with the average temperature 1.5 degrees Celsius higher than the mid-20th century average; it was also the driest (in terms of rainfall difference from average) ever. Most of the country has been in the grip of a severe drought since 2017, and New South Wales is currently seeing its most devastating bushfire season in at least 20 years.
Extreme heat has produced the worst drought in decades in Southern Africa. In Zambia and Zimbabwe, production of maize and other grains has declined by 30% or more, and hydroelectricity supply is at risk as the level of the Zambezi has fallen precipitously.
2019 was Alaska’s warmest year on record. As a result of a long-term warming trend, thousands of glaciers in the state have been melting faster, and permafrost has been thawing. The Bering Sea was ice-free for much of 2019, and satellite images taken in late March showed largely open water at a time when the sea is normally completely covered in ice.
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