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2021 was one of the hottest years on record – and it could also be the coldest we’ll ever see again
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2021 was one of the hottest years on record – and it could also be the coldest we’ll ever see again

2021 was one of the hottest years on record – and it could also be the coldest we'll ever see again


Well, it’s official: 2021 was one of the planet’s seven hottest years since records began, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) declared this week. The year was about 1.11℃ above pre-industrial levels – the seventh year in a row that the average global temperature rise edged over 1℃.

The WMO report is a resounding success two separate Official US analysesLast week, data was released that showed 2021 was the sixth-hottest year ever recorded, tied with 2018.

Many people in Australia and abroad may have felt colder and wetter than usual in 2021. This is because of the effect of back-to-back La Niña events, a natural phenomenon that brings cooler, rainier weather in our region.

The fact 2021 was among the world’s hottest years despite these cooling forces shows just how strong the long-term warming trend is. Indeed, 2021 may well be the coldest year we’ll ever experience again. Let’s reflect on the year that was, and what we can expect for this year and beyond.

According to WMO consolidated data, 2021 was one the seven warmest years ever recorded.

La Niña dampens the heat, but not enough

2021 started and ended with La Niña events. While it’s unusual for this climate phenomenon to occur two years in a row, it’s not unheard of.

In La Niña years, we see the global average temperature decrease by about 0.1-0.2℃. How does it work?

Continue reading:
Back so soon, La Niña? Here’s why La Nina is back so soon

During La Niña we see cool water from deep in the Pacific Ocean rise to the surface. This happens because of an increase in wind strength at the Equator. Warmer water is pushed to the west, which allows for more cool water to rise from the coast of South America.

The net transfer energy from the surface to deeper oceans brings down the average global surface temperature. While La Niña is a natural phenomenon (it’s not the result of human activities), human-caused climate change remains a constant underlying influence that sets a long-term warming trend.

A schematic showing interactions between the atmosphere and ocean during a La Niña.
Bureau of Meteorology.

The La Niña conditions of 2021 took the edge off the global average surface temperature. Parts of Australia, southern Africa and northwestern North America saw cooler temperatures during 2021 compared to recent years as the effects of La Niña kicked in.

Unless we have another strong La Niña very soon, we’re going to keep seeing even hotter years than 2021 for the foreseeable future until net global greenhouse gas emissions cease.

A year of extreme, massive events

As the world warms we’re becoming more accustomed to extreme events, especially severe heatwaves. This was the case for 2021, in which one extreme heat event occurred in western North America.

Heat rose in the northwest United States and Southwest Canada in late June and early July. New temperature records were set in the region – at some sites, by several degrees. A staggering 49.6℃ was recorded in Lytton, British Columbia, which is Canada’s highest temperature measurement.

This heatwave was disastrous in Seattle, Portland and elsewhere. Death rates spike. Soon after, wildfire destroyedLytton, the town.

Wildfire decimated most of Lytton, Canada, after record-breaking temperatures in June 2021.
Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press via AP

Although heatwaves were experienced in many parts of the globe, including important events in Asia and Europe, the heatwave that hit the western North American region was unique. This would have been a massive event. Without human-caused climate changes, it is almost impossible to make it work.

In many places, severe floods were also a regular occurrence in 2021. Due to human influence on climate, flash flooding is becoming more common and intense in short bursts. We saw particularly severe events in central EuropeIn ChinaJuly

People on inflatable boats in a flooded street

Last year, more 300 people died in floods in China.
Chinatopix via AP

Australia’s coolest year since 2012

Australia not only experienced back-to-back La Niña eventsNot only that, but also the negative Indian Ocean Dipole – a bit like the Indian Ocean’s version of La Niña, bringing cool, rainier weather to Australia during winter and spring.

Both left their marks, with Australia enjoying its own success. Coolest year since 2012Its. The wettest year since 2016.

Despite this, 2021 was still warmer than any other year in the observational series before 1980. Australia is actually warming faster than the rest of the world. Temperatures in AustraliaAlready up about 1.4℃ since 1910.

We also witnessed major floods that inundated Australia. eastern New South WalesIn March, QueenslandMore recent.

The influence of climate change on extreme rain in Australia is less evident than in other parts of the globe. This is because Australia has high climate variability, which means that it can swing from drought to flooding rains and then back again. Another reason is that major floods are often caused in large part by heavy rains that fall for several days. It is difficult to determine the impact of climate change on this type rain.

After a flood in November 2021, Forbes, NSW, saw hundreds of people evacuated.
AAP Image/Stuart Walmsley

What’s in store for 2022 and beyond

We can’t forecast the weather beyond about ten days, but we can make a couple of forecasts for 2022 with confidence.

First, 2022 may feel a slight cooling effect from the ongoing La NiñaIt will still be one of our warmest years. Due to our high greenhouse gas emissions, it is extremely unlikely that any year will be as cool as the ones we had in the 1990s.

Second, we will see more extreme heat events this year due to our influence on the climate. Record-breaking heatwaves are now more likely to occur..

Even if we act more urgently on climate change, we will continue to experience more intense heatwaves in the years ahead. This means that we need to These extremes can be overcome with greater resilienceChange cities and towns to be more attractive.

We know that we will see more global warming beyond 2022 unless we stop emitting greenhouse gases into our atmosphere. Global carbon dioxide emissions are rebounding. 2021: Near-record levels after a brief drop in 2020 from the pandemic, we’re a long way off stopping global warming.

Rapid decarbonisation will be necessary to reduce the planet’s further warming. It’s not too late to Avoid the most dangerous impacts of climate change.

Continue reading:
Three essential readings for adapting cities to a warmer world:


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