Globally, 2020 was the second warmest year of the warmest decade on record, according to new data from the World Meteorological Society.
That was despite the presence of the naturally occurring climate cooling phenomenon known as La Nina.
The confirmation of provisional data comes after a year of tangible extreme weather conditions around the world.
In 2020, Siberia saw temperatures around 5C (41F) above average which culminated in a reading of 38C (100.4F) at Verkhoyansk last June. That may be the highest known temperature recorded in the Arctic Circle.
January to October was the warmest period on record in Europe. Extreme temperatures exacerbated bush fires in California and Australia.
For the last fifty years, the planet has been warming about 0.2C (32.36F) each decade.
In the Paris Agreement signed by world leaders five years ago, countries agreed to try to limit global warming to 1.5C (34.7F) above pre-industrial levels and well below 2C (35.6F).
But the WMO data shows the average global temperature last year was nearly 1.3C (34.34F) above pre-industrial levels.
The United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the WMO findings represented “yet another stark reminder of the relentless pace of climate change, which is destroying lives and livelihoods across our planet”.
Average temperatures in 2020 were behind 2016 which was the warmest year – elevated by El Nino conditions which can increase global temperatures by around 0.2C (32.36F) – and in front of 2019 which was the third-warmest year on record globally.
The findings involved data collated by the UK’s Met Office, the University of East Anglia and the UK National Centre for Atmospheric Science.
Dr Colin Morice, a senior scientist in the Met Office’s climate monitoring team, said: “2020 has proved to be another notable year in the global climate record. For the global average temperature in 2020 to be yet another warm year, the second warmest on record even when influenced by a slight La Nina, is a sign of the continued impact of human-induced climate change on our global climate. With all datasets showing a continued rise in global average temperature, the latest figures take the world one step closer to the limits stipulated by the Paris Agreement.”
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Monitoring global temperatures provides a benchmark for world leaders under pressure to make real commitments to avert catastrophic climate change.
The warning comes at the start of what is likely to be a make or break year for tackling the climate emergency. After being delayed by 12 months the landmark COP26 climate conference is due to take place in Glasgow in November hosted by the UK. It’s hoped countries will make new pledges to reduce their emissions.
In December the UK announced a new pledge to reduce its emissions by 68 per cent by 2030 compared to 1990 levels.