2022 one of the warmest years on record, top US agencies say

Scientists warn the world is getting closer to passing 1.5°C threshold

French sunflowers suffering from a lack of water, as Europe wilted under an unusually extreme heatwave last August. AP
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Data compiled by Nasa and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration tell the same story: the world is on course to shoot past the goal of limiting temperature rises to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.

According to Nasa, 2022 was tied for the fifth warmest year. NOAA, which interpreted the data slightly differently, ranked 2022 as the sixth warmest year since records began in 1880.

“We all tell basically the same story, while our ranks might differ a little bit from year to year,” said Russ Vose, chief of the climate analysis and synthesis branch at NOAA. “The long-term trend is up.”

Mr Vose said that global temperatures have risen 1.1°C above what they were in the late 19th century.

In the 2015 Paris Agreement, countries pledged to try to limit global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels — the point at which scientists believe global warming may be past the point of no return.

“We're getting kind of close to that,” warned Mr Vose. “We've been kind of flirting with that for some years now.”

Eight of the 10 warmest years on record have occurred in the past decade. Since the middle of the 20th century, the annual global temperature has been steadily rising.

“Science leaves no room for doubt,” said Nasa administrator Bill Nelson.

“What we're seeing is our warming climate. It's warning all of us. Forest fires are intensifying, hurricanes are getting stronger, droughts are wreaking havoc, sea levels are rising. Extreme weather patterns threaten our well-being across this planet and we need some bold action.”

In 2022, scorching heat may have caused as many as 20,000 deaths in Europe, which recorded its seconded warmest year on record.

In Pakistan, devastating floods affected more than 30 million people and killed at least 1,700.

And atmospheric rivers are currently pounding California, which is still in the midst of a two-decade-long drought.

NOAA reported that natural disasters caused an estimated $268 billion in damages worldwide last year. The US had its third costliest year due to climate-related disasters, amounting to $165 billion.

Scientists warn that while 2022 may not have been a record year in terms of both temperature and damage, it is only a matter of time until the record is broken again.

El Nino, an atmospheric event, typically brings warmer weather, while its counterpart, La Nina, usually brings cooler temperatures.

“The next El Nino, whether it happens at the end of this year, or in subsequent years, that will trigger almost certainly a new record,” explained Gavin Schmidt, director of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies at Nasa.

Mr Schmidt stressed that while the world is getting warmer, humans still have “agency” over climate change.

“If we collectively reduce emissions quite quickly, then we can avoid the higher temperatures.”

Updated: January 12, 2023, 7:36 PM
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