News National The year 2020 listed among the world’s top three hottest years on record
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The year 2020 listed among the world’s top three hottest years on record

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We’ve suffered bushfires, a global pandemic, a tanking economy and a nail-biting US election all in one year.

And now, to top it all off, a new report suggests 2020 is on track to be among the top three hottest years on record.

The comprehensive report, released by the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) on Thursday, revealed the global mean temperature was about 1.2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels (1850 to 1900) between January and October.

The data places 2020 in second place for the title of hottest year on record, following 2016 and ahead of 2019.

This year, the most notable warmth was observed across northern Asia – particularly the Siberian Arctic – where temperatures were more than 5 degrees above average.

The small Siberian town of Verkhoyansk – typically one of the coldest spots on Earth – broke a new record on June 20 by reaching a top of 38 degrees.

Australians have felt the heat this year, too.

Fresh in the minds of many is the Black Summer bushfires that destroyed vast areas across the country, sending plumes of hazardous smoke into the atmosphere.

On January 4, the city of Penrith in western Sydney recorded a terrifying top of 48.9 degrees – the highest temperature observed in a metropolitan area.

More recently, a searing heatwave in the final days of November helped cement this year’s spring as our hottest on record.

Those figures are a flashing warning sign, as it shows we are not on track to meet our targets under the Paris Climate agreement.

The Morrison government, meanwhile, has not implemented an effective climate policy, opting for a gas-led recovery rather than green-led strategy following the coronavirus pandemic.

The government also plans to meet its 2030 Paris Agreement NDC target by using carryover surplus emissions units from the Kyoto Protocol – something other countries have ruled out doing.

New Zealand is heading in the opposite direction.

On Wednesday, NZ’s parliament joined Japan, South Korea, Argentina and other European nations by declaring a climate emergency.

It also pledged to become a carbon-neutral government within five years.

Australia has not declared a climate emergency, though the city councils of Sydney, Melbourne, Hobart and Adelaide, as well as the ACT government, have done so on their own.

All is not lost

A key aim of the Paris Agreement, adopted by 195 nations, is to combat climate change by holding the increase in global average temperature to well below two degrees above pre-industrial levels.

To do this, all of the national governments must work hard to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels.

Although we are lagging behind on our targets, all is not lost.

If all national governments meet their 2020 net-zero emissions targets, warming could be as low as 2.1 degrees by 2100, putting the Paris Agreement’s 1.5-degree limit within reach, according to new modelling by the Climate Action Tracker.

The modelling takes into account China’s pledge to achieve carbon neutrality before 2060, and US President-Elect Joe Biden’s ambitious 2050 net-zero target.

“2020 has, unfortunately, been yet another extraordinary year for our climate,” said WMO Secretary-General Professor Petteri Taalas.

“Record warm years have usually coincided with a strong El Niño event, as was the case in 2016.

“We are now experiencing a La Niña, which has a cooling effect on global temperatures, but has not been sufficient to put a brake on this year’s heat.

“Despite the current La Niña conditions, this year has already shown near-record heat comparable to the previous record of 2016.”

The years 2011 to 2020 will be the hottest decade recorded, with the warmest six years all occurring since 2015.