2020: One of the Hottest Years Ever

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2020 tied 2016 as one of the hottest years ever, with average temperature 1.25°C above the pre-industrial average. To avoid catastrophe, the environmental struggle must be anti-capitalist.

Overhead image of a wildfire burning in Russia’s Krasnoyarsk region
Image: Reuters/Julia Petrenko

The European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S) has revealed that global average temperatures in 2020 reached record heights: last year tied with 2016 as the hottest on record. The global average temperature was 0.6°C above the standard reference period of 1981-2010 and 1.25°C above the pre-industrial average. This is the sixth year since 2015 of exceptionally hot weather. 

“It is no surprise that the last decade was the warmest on record,” said C3S Director Carlo Buontempo. “[it] is yet another reminder of the urgency of ambitious emissions reductions to prevent adverse climate impacts in the future.” 

The largest annual temperature deviation from the standard reference period was seen in the Arctic and Northern Siberia. An exceptionally warm year in these regions culminated in temperatures more than 6°C above the average and saw ice sheets melt to a record-breaking low. The wildfire season was also unusually active in this region, with fires first detected in May and continuing well into autumn. These fires released a record 244 megatons of carbon dioxide, exceeding the 2019 record by nearly 35 percent. Australia and the U.S. West Coast also experienced unprecedented wildfires, adding to these staggering emissions. 

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Carbon emissions dipped in 2020 due to the global economic shutdowns during the coronavirus pandemic. But this temporary drop amounted to just 7 percent — 10 percent in the United States — and may have been offset by the massive wildfires. Carbon dioxide concentrations continued to increase at a rate of 2.3 parts per million (ppm) per year according to the C3S, peaking at 413 ppm in May 2020. 

“While carbon dioxide concentrations have risen slightly less in 2020 than in 2019, this is no cause for complacency,” reported Vincent-Henri Peuch, director of the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service. “Until global net emissions are reduced to zero, CO2 will continue to accumulate in the atmosphere and drive further climate change,” he warned.

A system where finite resources are privately owned, exploited, and exchanged for the sole purpose of enriching a wealthy minority will never be able to tackle climate change. And the minuscule temporary drop associated with the coronavirus demonstrates that individual responsibility is wholly insufficient for halting our disastrous trajectory. 

Capitalist governments across the world have not just ignored this emergency — they have actively exacerbated it. To avoid catastrophe, the environmental struggle must be anti-capitalist, and the solution is a democratically-run economy structured around human need and environmental sustainability rather than profit.

Adapted and expanded from an article first published in Spanish on January 8 in La Izquierda Diario.

Translation: Otto Fors

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Otto Fors

Otto Fors

Otto is a psychology PhD student in New York City and former English teacher.