The Guardian | Damian Carrington The climate crisis continued unabated in 2020, with the joint highest global temperatures on record, alarming heat and record wildfires in the Arctic, and a record 29 tropical storms in the Atlantic. Despite a 7% fall in fossil fuel burning due to coronavirus lockdowns, heat-trapping carbon dioxide continued to build up in the atmosphere, also setting a new record. The average surface temperature across the planet in 2020 was 1.25C higher than in the pre-industrial period of 1850-1900, dangerously close to the 1.5C target set by the world’s nations to avoid the worst impacts. Only 2016 matched the heat in 2020, but that year saw a natural El Niño climate event which boosts temperatures. Without that it is likely 2020 would have been the outright hottest year. […] The temperature data released by the European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S) showed that the past six years have been the hottest six on record.
CO2 levels to breach 50% rise from pre-industrial era in 2021 – Met Office The UK Met Office forecasts that human activity this year will push CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere to levels 50% higher than they were before the industrial revolution, reports Reuters. The Met Office’s annual forecast indicates that emissions from fossil fuels and deforestation will see CO2 continue to accumulate in the atmosphere in 2021, the newswire says, “with concentrations expected to exceed 417 parts per million (ppm) for several weeks from April to June for the first time”. That record level “would be 50% higher than the concentration of 278ppm at the dawn of the industrial era in the late 18th century”, it says, adding: “The annual peak is likely to be followed by a cyclical fall as plants growing in the northern hemisphere summer absorb CO2. From September onwards, CO2 levels will resume rising, with the average annual concentration of the greenhouse gas seen at around 416.3ppm.” Met Office climate scientist Prof Richard Betts tells the Independent that the rise in CO2 levels “is accelerating”. He says: “It wasn’t until 1986 that CO2 levels were around 25% higher, compared to the pre-industrial. So that took about 200 years to happen. And now we’ve done the next 25% in a little over 30 years.“ . The Times reports the comments of Dr Heather Graven from Imperial College London, who describes the 50% increase as “another grim milestone in the unrelenting rise of atmospheric CO2 concentration”. And the i newspaper notes that the Met Office says the temporary dip in emissions last year because of the pandemic has not reduced the overall amount of CO2 in the atmosphere. Betts tells the paper: “Although the Covid-19 pandemic meant that less CO2 was emitted worldwide in 2020 than in previous years, that still added to the ongoing build-up in the atmosphere.” Last year, Carbon Brief published a guest post by Betts and colleagues on the limited impact of Covid-19 lockdowns on atmospheric CO2.
Last year was likely the joint warmest on record, reports the Guardian, tied with 2016. Temperature data released by the European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S) shows that the global average surface temperature in 2020 was 1.25C higher than in the pre-industrial period of 1850-1900, the paper explains: “Only 2016 matched the heat in 2020, but that year saw a natural El Niño climate event which boosts temperatures. Without that it is likely 2020 would have been the outright hottest year.” In fact, a La Niña event developed in the second half of the year, notes the New York Times, which is “essentially the opposite of” El Niño and is “marked by surface cooling across much of the equatorial Pacific Ocean”. Dr Zeke Hausfather – Carbon Brief’s climate science contributor – tells the paper that the largest effect of La Niña on global temperatures tends to come several months after conditions peak in the Pacific. He says: “So while certainly La Niña had some cooling effect in the last few months, it’s likely going to have a bigger impact on 2021 temperatures.” In addition to 2020 tying the record, all of the last six years are among the hottest ever, Dr Freja Vamborg, a senior scientist at C3S, tells the paper. She adds: “It’s a reminder that temperatures are changing and will continue to change if we don’t cut greenhouse gas emissions.” The past 12 months also saw a new record for Europe, around 0.4C warmer than 2019, notes BBC News. The C3S data comes ahead of other climate agencies – such as NASA, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Berkeley Earth – which are due to publish their figures on 14 January, notes the Washington Post: “They are expected to rank the year as either the first or second-warmest on record, due to slightly different ways of measuring global temperatures.” The Independent and New Scientist also have the story. In related news, the Guardian reports that the last decade was the hottest on record for Australia – with temperatures almost 1C above average and one third of a degree warmer than the previous decade. The data from Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology show that 2020 was the country’s fourth warmest year on record, notes the Sydney Morning Herald. It adds: “Only 2019, which was Australia’s hottest and driest year, 2013 and 2005, were warmer.” Bureau chief Andrew Watkins tells the paper that “it’s strange that we almost shrug our shoulders”, adding that “it’s a significant record” given 2020 included a La Niña event in the Pacific from September onwards, which tends to drive cooler-than-average conditions.
E&E News | Thomas Frank The United States accounted for nearly half of the global economic loss from natural disasters in 2020 due to a record-setting number of hurricanes and wildfires, according to a report yesterday from the reinsurance giant Munich Re. Disasters caused $95 billion in damage in the U.S. last year, with a third of the losses coming from the California wildfires; Hurricane Laura, which slammed Louisiana in August; and the derecho that demolished large swaths of Iowa in August. Globally, disasters caused $210 billion in economic damage last year and killed an estimated 8,200 people, according to Munich Re, which tracks disaster losses and insurance claims. […[ The damage has grown due to both climate change and the increasing number of people and industrial plants moving into areas that are vulnerable to coastal storms and flooding, Ernst Rauch, Munich Re’s chief climate scientist, said in an interview. […] The U.S. typically accounts for a large share of global disaster losses even though it has only 4% of the world’s population because it is uniquely susceptible to hurricanes, flooding and wildfires and has so much development in disaster-prone coastal areas. Europe has equivalent wealth but does not experience hurricanes. […] Both the hurricane and wildfire seasons in the U.S. set records last year.
The New York Times | Christopher Flavelle Hurricanes, wildfires and other disasters across the United States caused $95 billion in damage last year, according to new data, almost double the amount in 2019 and the third-highest losses since 2010. […] Topping the list was Hurricane Laura, which caused $13 billion in damage when it struck Southwestern Louisiana in late August. Laura was one of the year’s record number of 30 named storms in 2020; 12 of those storms made landfall, another record. The storms caused $43 billion in losses, almost half the total for all U.S. disasters last year. […] The next costliest category of natural disasters was convective storms, which includes thunderstorms, tornadoes, hailstorms and derechos, and caused $40 billion in losses last year. The derecho that struck Iowa and other Midwestern states in August caused almost $7 billion in damage, destroying huge amounts of corn and soybean crops. Wildfires caused another $16 billion in losses. Last year’s wildfires stood out not just because of the numbers of acres burned or houses destroyed, Munich Re said, but also because so much of that damage was outside of California. Some 4,000 homes were damaged or destroyed in Oregon alone. The new numbers come as the insurance industry struggles to adjust to the effects of climate change. In California, officials have tried a series of rule changes designed to stop insurers from pulling out of fire-prone areas, leaving homeowners with few options for insurance. Homeowners and governments around the United States need to do a better job of making buildings and communities more resilient to natural disasters, said Donald L. Griffin, a vice president at the American Property Casualty Insurance Association, which represents insurance companies.
E&E News | Jennifer Hijazi From his covered porch on Baltimore’s Frederick Avenue, Scott Harris watched the street in front of his home morph into an unrelenting river. A deluge of brown water surged along his stretch of the road, creating waves under the tires of cars inching through the flood. A chunk of asphalt broke loose and flapped under the water’s pressure, while rogue green trash cans were swept away by the current and disappeared around street corners. […] Situated on the Chesapeake Bay, Baltimore is on the precipice of many more flash floods and other events supercharged by global climate change. Rising temperatures worldwide have led to sea-level rise, extreme heat and other impacts that are creating new pressure for infrastructure and public health in Charm City and elsewhere. The issue has now landed in the Supreme Court — sort of. In a landmark 2018 lawsuit filed in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City, the mayor and City Council argued that companies like BP PLC and Chevron Corp. that have spent decades producing fossil fuels — and spewing greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere — have violated state trespass, public nuisance and consumer protection laws and should be the ones to pay for Baltimore to address climate impacts. “[T]he parties who have profited from externalizing the responsibility for sea level rise, extreme precipitation events, heatwaves” are the ones that should bear the cost of addressing those impacts — rather than “local taxpayers, residents, or broader segments of the public,” Baltimore argued in its original complaint. Later this month, the nation’s highest bench will weigh in on a highly technical issue stemming from Baltimore’s lawsuit that could affect the outcome of this case and many others like it that have been filed in state courts across the country. Oil and gas industry attorneys have argued that the cases instead belong in federal court, where they may face a higher risk of failure. At the very least, industry lawyers’ challenges have significantly delayed proceedings in each climate case. The question before the Supreme Court in BP v. Mayor and City Council of Baltimore is a narrow one related to the venue battle, but if the justices side with industry in the case, it could hurt Baltimore’s shot at getting oil and gas firms to foot the bill for climate response.