The relentless procession of planetary heating continued in 2021, with the past seven years now the hottest years ever recorded.
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Data released Monday by the European climate observation service Copernicus showed last year was the fifth hottest since measurements began, despite the global cooling influence of a La Niña in the Pacific Ocean.
“It gets difficult to say something new each time we see signs of another nail in the planetary coffin,” said Brian Hoskins, chair of the Grantham Institute at Imperial College London.
In Europe, last summer was the hottest on record. Those months coincided with deadly fires and heatwaves in the south and floods in the north. But 2021 as a whole was only slightly warmer than normal, after the year got off to a frosty start in Western Europe.
In North America, extreme summer temperatures smashed local records and drove devastating wildfires.
While the warming globally might feel “gradual,” said Rowan Sutton, a climatologist with the U.K. National Centre for Atmospheric Science, the events seen across the world in 2021 should be “a punch in the face to make politicians and public alike wake up to the urgency of the climate emergency.”
There is no sign of a let-up. Despite the year also being marked by significant new political pressure to address the pollution that causes climate change, concentrations of carbon dioxide and methane continued to rise, Copernicus said.
Coal use jumped by 9 percent in 2021 as the global economy reawakened from the pandemic and China and India in particular turned back to coal.
On top of this, scientists were unable to explain a mystery spike in the amount of methane in the atmosphere in 2020 and 2021. Copernicus found the rate of increase in the potent greenhouse gas was more than double the average of the past 17 years.
Methane can come from a variety of sources, both natural and industrial, with much of the latter coming from the production of oil and gas, mining and agriculture. But global monitoring of those sources is poor.
In December, the EU proposed a strategy to target emissions of methane that leaned heavily on the need to measure and verify the sources of the gas.
“Only with determined efforts backed up by observational evidence can we make a real difference in our fight against the climate catastrophe,” said Vincent-Henri Peuch, director of the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service.