Earth endured its second-hottest year on record in 2019, NASA and NOAA scientists announced Wednesday, capping a decade they say was the warmest in recorded history.
The annual global climate assessment offers more evidence that the dangerous warming unleashed mostly by humans’ burning of fossil fuels is continuing virtually unabated.
And combined with the recent news that global emissions of heat-trapping gases reached a new record high last year, it’s a sign that so far, international efforts to contain the climate crisis are failing.
“This shows that what’s happening is persistent, not a fluke due to some weather phenomenon: we know that the long-term trends are being driven by the increasing levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere,” Gavin Schmidt, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies said in announcing the report.
In 2019, global surface temperatures were 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit (0.98 degrees Celsius) warmer than the 1951-to-1980 mean, NASA scientists said.
Last year narrowly missed claiming its spot as the hottest year in history, the report said, with global temperatures just below the all-time high felt in 2016.
The NASA report matches findings released last week by the European Union’s climate monitoring service, which also found that 2019 was the second-hottest year on record.
The fingerprints of global warming were apparent in many of the extreme heat and weather events that unfolded in 2019.
In Australia, record-breaking heat in December helped fuel the massive wildfires that are still burning across huge swaths of the country, capping what the country’s Bureau of Meteorology said was the nation’s hottest and driest year on record.
Last summer, much of Europe was engulfed by brutal heatwaves that have been linked to thousands of deaths.
And in Alaska, temperatures in July climbed to 90 degrees and shattered all-time records, part of a trend of rapid and unprecedented warming in the Arctic.
“We are experiencing the impacts of global warming literally unfolding in real-time,” said Noah Diffenbaugh, a professor of Earth science at Stanford University.
The NASA/NOAA report found that the average global temperature is now more than 2 degrees Fahrenheit (more than 1 degree Celsius) above what it was in the late 1800s, putting the planet perilously close to the critical threshold of 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming.
Scientists have warned that failing to cut human emissions of heat-trapping gases rapidly to hold global warming to less than 1.5 degrees Celsius will trigger more extreme wildfires, floods and food shortages impacting hundreds of millions of people.