By Eduard Ribas i Admetlla
Washington, Jan 13 (EFE).- Planet-wide temperatures continued to increase in 2021 and will reach a level of 1.5 C above pre-industrial levels in a decade, an upper limit established in the Paris Agreement with the goal of avoiding the most catastrophic climate consequences.
NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, both based in Washington DC, revealed in separate reports published Thursday that last year’s global average surface temperature was the sixth-hottest since reliable record-keeping began in 1880 and indicated that the temperatures of the last seven years have been the warmest on record.
“We’re at around an 0.8 C or 0.9 C (increase). If the pattern that’s being seen continues, in 10 years, around 2031 or 2032, we’d be arriving at that point (1.5 C),” Edil Sepulveda, an earth scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, told Efe.
In the 2015 Paris Agreement, the international community agreed to a series of measures aimed at limiting global warming to well below 2 C, and preferably to 1.5 C, compared to pre-industrial levels.
Global warming above that level would not “mean there would be cataclysms” that same day, according to Sepulveda, although he cautioned that if temperatures are not reined in by then there will be parts of the planet where it will be “very difficult to live.”
The NOAA’s “Assessing the Global Climate in 2021” report said the Earth’s average land and ocean surface temperature in 2021 was 14.7 C, or 0.84 of a degree above the 20th-century average.
That made 2021 the sixth-warmest year on record after 2015, 2016, 2017, 2019 and 2020.
To date, the two hottest years have been 2016 and 2020, but experts say the slight cooling in 2021 does not indicate a reversal of the warming trend.
Last year was one of the warmest of the past 141 years even though it “began in the midst of a cold phase … known as La Niña, (which) tends to cool global temperatures slightly,” the NOAA report said.
“Being among the hottest years even with La Niña lets us see that 2021 has followed the pattern of the last decade on the planet,” Sepulveda said.
The report also noted that 2021 “marks the 45th consecutive year (since 1977) with global temperatures, at least nominally, above the 20th-century average.”
In addition, the summer of 2021 was the hottest ever in the northwestern United States, and South America saw its third-warmest December on record.
Global warming is caused by the emission of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, where they trap solar radiation and enhance the so-called greenhouse effect on Earth.
“There’s a very large consensus that global warming is caused by humans, that there’s no doubt at all about that,” Sepulveda said.
And the effects of the steadily increasing warming of the Earth above pre-industrial levels are already apparent, the expert said.
Rising temperatures are the “main ingredient” for heat waves like those that battered the US last summer, forest fires and droughts, according to the scientist.
The high temperatures also lead to more water vapor in the atmosphere which results in heavy rains and flash floods like those that occurred last July in Germany, or to higher sea levels triggered by the melting of the polar ice caps.
The NOAA also said in its report that the amount of heat stored in the upper levels of the ocean, known as ocean heat content, reached a record high in 2021, exceeding the previous mark set in 2020.
“The greenhouse gases are going to be in the atmosphere for decades,” Sepulveda said. “That’s why it’s important that action be taken in the next few years.” EFE