Last year was the second warmest in Europe and the fifth warmest globally, with the average annual temperature being approximately 1.2°C higher than the pre-industrial level, the EU’s Copernicus Climate Change Service has revealed in its annual climate report. Some parts of the globe saw temperatures exceeding 2°C above the pre-industrial level and greenhouse gases continued to increase, reaching their highest concentrations ever. The report’s authors warn that urgent action is required to avoid the worst consequences of global warming.
Founded in 2014, the Copernicus Program is wholly owned by the European Union and jointly managed by the European Space Agency (ESA) and the European Union Agency for the Space Program (EUSPA). It uses global data from satellites as well as terrestrial observation stations in order to help governments and international organizations to analyze, understand, and respond to climate change.
According to the report, summer 2022 was the hottest ever recorded in modern times in continental Europe, whereas autumn was the third warmest. Meanwhile, Pakistan and India faced record-breaking maximum and minimum temperatures. The situation was even worse in the Arctic and Antarctic regions with the report observing that the temperature in northern central Siberia and the Antarctic Peninsula exceeded 2°C above the average of the 1991–2020 reference period.
As the world is getting closer to the 1.5°C limit, Copernicus deputy director, Samantha Burgess, noted that the world was already “on borrowed time”.
“These events highlight that we are already experiencing the devastating consequences of our warming world. The latest 2022 Climate Highlights from C3S provide clear evidence that avoiding the worst consequences will require society to both urgently reduce carbon emissions and swiftly adapt to the changing climate,” she noted.
Annual global-average surface temperature (°C)
However, despite the worrying developments, the new Copernicus report pointed out that 2022 was 0.3° Celsius cooler than 2020. Furthermore, Iceland bucked the trend by recording lower temperatures in 2022 than the 1991-2021 baseline despite several nearby countries in western Europe (including Britain) recording their highest average temperatures since 1950.
Extreme weather events
The extremely high temperature recorded in the Antarctic region caused unusually low sea ice conditions during the spring, the report highlighted.
Elsewhere, the hot summer in continental Europe resulted in long-lasting heatwaves and widespread drought, with several countries reporting that rivers had dried up to the point of being unusable for freight vessels. Numerous, intense summer wildfires in a range of EU countries raised wildfire emissions in the EU and the UK to the highest levels in the last 15 years.
Other regions of the world that experienced extreme events in 2022 include Pakistan and northern India which endured a prolonged heatwave in the spring as well as record-breaking cold temperatures. Pakistan was hit again at the end of summer when record amounts of rainfall led to widespread flooding that left several hundred thousand people homeless.
Parts of central and eastern China also had to deal with an enduring heatwave during the summer of 2022. Meanwhile, Australia had to deal with record-low temperatures as well as an abundance of rain. Other regions that saw below-average temperatures included Canada and the tropical Pacific.
The Copernicus Program also discovered that carbon dioxide and methane increased in the atmosphere in 2022, carbon dioxide by approximately two parts per million and methane by 12 parts per million. This increase in carbon dioxide is the highest ever recorded over the last two million years, according to Copernicus.
“We can see from our monitoring activities that atmospheric concentrations [of carbon dioxide and methane] are continuing to rise with no sign of slowing down,” said Vincent-Henry Peuch, Director of the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service.
The increase in carbon dioxide in 2022, although worrying, was about average compared to data from the last few years. However, methane emissions were significantly higher than in previous years. Nonetheless, methane levels in 2022 were still far lower than those recorded during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 and 2021.
Other good news about greenhouse gases reported by the Copernicus Program included the fact that a relative lack of wildfires around the planet saw a reduction in greenhouse gas production from burning vegetation, although no exact figures were given.
In contrast, however, some areas of Europe such as France, Spain, Germany, and Slovenia recorded record-high emissions from wildfires during the summer drought which contributed to degraded air quality in the region.
Preliminary figures from 2022 that were included in the Copernicus report indicate that the production of carbon dioxide emissions from burning oil, coal, and natural gas use were marginally higher than the year before although the final figures will not be available until April 2023.