Last year was the fifth-warmest ever recorded in planetary history, scientists announced on Tuesday. The data reflects a wider warming trend driven by emissions of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, with the past eight years being the warmest on record, and 2016 the hottest yet.
The record heat is hitting some parts of the globe harder than others. This past summer was the hottest ever recorded in Europe, where a series of punishing heat waves claimed more than 20,000 lives. Prolonged heat waves also swept through parts of Pakistan, northern India, and central and eastern China.
“2022 was yet another year of climate extremes across Europe and globally,” said Samantha Burgess, deputy director of the European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service, which announced the findings. “These events highlight that we are already experiencing the devastating consequences of our warming world.”
The consequences range from extreme floods that submerged a third of Pakistan last August to the seemingly unending drought that has paralyzed swaths of east Africa, killing more than 7 million livestock and subjecting more than 8.5 million people to dire water shortages since the drought began in October 2020. A study from the Norwegian Meteorological Institute last year found that parts of the Arctic are warming up to seven times faster than the global average, causing sea ice to melt more rapidly than anticipated. Because this ice acts as an “air conditioning unit” for the planet, its depletion could accelerate current rates of warming.
Meanwhile, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is on the rise, increasing by approximately 2.1 parts per million last year, a rate similar to those of recent years. Atmospheric methane concentrations increased by 12 parts per billion, which is higher than average. Current concentrations of the two gasses are estimated to be the highest on record for the past 2 million years and 800,000 years, respectively, according to the report.
The warmer temperatures highlight the need for efforts to cut carbon emissions. In the United States, the Biden administration passed the country’s first major climate legislation, the Inflation Reduction Act, in August. And yet the country’s carbon pollution keeps climbing: A report by the Rhodium Group on Tuesday found that U.S. emissions increased by just over one percent last year.
The observed warming trends persisted in 2022 despite three consecutive years of La Niña, a climate pattern marked by cooler-than-normal sea surface temperatures near the equator in the Pacific Ocean, which tends to suppress warming across the world. La Niña is expected to stick around through the first part of this year, before giving way to El Niño, the weather pattern associated with warmer waters in the Pacific, which cause hotter and drier conditions globally.
While it is difficult to predict the outcome of an El Niño in a given year, the absence of a La Niña cooling effect suggests that this year could be even hotter than the last.