Sometimes it’s hard to get a clear grasp on just how much the climate has changed and where we sit now, compared to the climate of the past.
With the United States’ National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) announcement that 2020 was the second hottest year on record – very nearly taking the top spot alongside 2016, which was the hottest year on record – we’ve put the last 141 years into context in this heatmap of global temperature over time.
The chart below compares every month to the average temperature of that same month throughout the 20th Century, all the way back to 1880. So, for example, the temperature of each individual June is compared to the average of all 100 Junes between 1901 and 2000, each July is compared to 100 years of Julys, and so on.
More global heat records will fall and extreme weather will worsen, if climate change and the burning of coal, oil and gas continues unabated. We must transition away from fossil fuels to a net zero emissions world. Australia can become a powerhouse in the new economy, if it uses its world-class renewable resources, land abundance, workforce, and infrastructure. 2021 must be a turning point for climate action.
– 2020 was the second hottest year on record globally. Remarkably, despite the presence of a normally planet cooling La Niña late in 2020, the year was only very slightly below the hottest on record: 2016, a year where global temperatures were supercharged by a strong warming El Niño.
– It was very close. Some other agencies – using slightly different methods to measure the surface of the planet’s average temperature – determined that 2020 was either the hottest (Japanese Meteorological Agency) or the equal hottest (NASA) year on record. As the Guardian reports, “Regardless of these minor differences, all the datasets again underlined the long-term heating up of the planet due to the burning of fossil fuels, deforestation and other human activities.”
– 2020 is the 44th straight year where global average temperatures over land and ocean were above the average temperature of the 20th century. The most recent individual month that was below average was December 1984, a little over 36 years ago.
– The past decade (2011-2020) was the hottest on record (+0.82°C above the 20th century average). This surpassed the previous decadal record (2001–2010) of +0.62°C. The last six decades have all been hotter than the one before.
– The last seven years were the seven hottest years on record (in order: 2016, 2020, 2019, 2015, 2017, 2018 and 2014).
– There have been twenty years in the 21st Century so far, and all except one of them are in the top twenty hottest years on record. The one year of the 21st Century that does not make the list is 2008, which sits at 21st, and the other year in the hottest twenty is 1998, which sits at eleventh.