2021 was the sixth hottest year on record
The past decade is also the hottest the modern world has ever seen.
According to scientists all across the world, it’s getting hot in here. And by here, they mean the entire planet.
On Thursday, NASA and NOAA released an announcement stating that 2021 was the sixth-hottest year on record, reaching 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit above the average temperature baseline. A few days earlier, the European Unions’s Copernicus Climate Change Service declared 2021 the fifth hottest year on record (NASA reported 2021 tying with 2018, while Copernicus showed 2021 slightly beating out 2018). The year was cooler than record-breaking 2020 and 2016, but the temperatures still were relatively close together. Additionally, heat measurements? in the upper levels of the ocean reached a new high in 2021.
According to NASA administrator Bill Nelson, eight of the top 10 warmest years on our planet occurred in the last decade. “Basically, if you look at the data [of] the decadal averages, we’ve had the warmest decade on record,” NOAA meteorologist Jared Rennie, told Popular Science. “And if we don’t do anything about it, the trends are unfortunately going to keep going up.”
However, the most significant part of the news is that the last eight years are the hottest on record, dating back to the 1880s—stark proof that climate change has already begun making giant impacts on the planet. NASA administrator Bill Nelson called this “an indisputable fact that underscores the need for bold action to safeguard the future of our country—and all of humanity” in a release. Weather patterns still play a role, and the scientists predict that the global temperature slipped down by around 0.06 degrees Fahrenheit due to La Niña conditions.
[Related: The 4 biggest lessons from the latest IPCC climate report.]
Still, this past July was the hottest month on record ever, and numerous climate disasters like summer heat domes, droughts, and wildfires show the impacts of hotter-than-usual days. And even though 2021 was unremarkable in terms of ice cover in the Arctic and tropical storms, NASA climatologist Gavin Schmit told the Washington Post that in some ways, that makes this year even more disheartening. Even the “the not-quite-so-bad years,” he said, are horrific compared to mere decades ago.
Without some serious work to get the world on the right track for chopping down climate-change causing emissions, the results could be disastrous. Even in an optimistic climate pathway, the world could expect to see 1.9 degrees Fahrenheit (1.1 degrees Celsius) in warming, leading to frequent and destructive heatwaves and rising sea levels. Some impacts, like glacier ice retreat and increased drought, are already here and likely to continue to worsen.
“The preponderance of evidence—which comes from looking at ocean temperatures, land temperatures, upper atmospheric temperatures, glaciers melting, sea ice changes—are telling us a coherent story about changes in the earth system which points to warming overall,” Robert Rohde, the lead scientist at Berkeley Earth, told the New York Times. “Slight variations up or down, a year or two at a time, don’t change that picture.”