It’s official: the past eight years were the hottest ever recorded

Copernicus data confirm that the past eight years were the warmest on record globally, with 2022 taking fifth position overall.

  • The past eight years were the hottest ever globally, with 2022 coming in fifth.
  • The data are from Copernicus, the European climate change monitoring programme.
  • In Europe, the continent that is warming more quickly than the others, the summer of 2022 was the hottest ever.
  • 2022 was also a record year in terms of the heat accumulated in the oceans.

A series of broken records, a string of figures that deviate greatly from the norm. This is what emerges from the Global Climate Highlights 2022 report, a summary of the temperatures, greenhouse gas concentrations, and the most important climate and weather events of the year that just ended. The report was published by Copernicus, the EU’s climate change monitoring programme. 2022 was an extraordinary year in terms of temperatures because it brought the hottest summer ever recorded in Europe and, overall, it was the fifth-hottest year on record globally. However, the year cannot be labelled as an exception, because it fits into a very clear trend: the past eight years have been the hottest since this monitoring began.

heat, drought, europe
Heatwave and drought in the United Kingdom © Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

The years since 2014 were the hottest ever

Atop the list of hottest years globally sits 2016, followed by 2020, 2019, and 2017. Between the fourth and eighth place on the list, the differences are razor-thin, so much so that Copernicus puts 2022 in fifth place but there is the possibility that other databases may differ slightly. What’s certain is that the past eight years, from 2014 onwards, were the hottest ever recorded, each with an average annual temperature more than one degree above pre-industrial levels. In 2022 specifically, the yearly average was 1.2 degrees higher than the period between 1850 and 1900, which is typically chosen as an indicator of the preindustrial age. With the Paris Agreement, the international community formally committed to doing everything possible to “attempt not to go beyond 1.5 degrees”.

Europe is heating faster than the rest of the world

Europe is heating at a faster rate than any other continent, so much so that in the past thirty years, its temperatures increased by more than twice as much as the global average. In the list of Europe’s hottest years, 2022 is second only to 2020 (with a difference of 0.3 degrees) and is slightly higher (by approximately 0.1 degrees) than 2019, 2015, and 2014. Particularly in western and southern Europe, the hottest annual temperatures since at least 1950 were recorded. Only the spring was relatively cool. The summer of 2022 was the hottest ever recorded, the previous record having been set in 2021. The autumn was the third hottest, behind only 2020 and 2006, and the winter was also in the top 10.

New ocean heating record in 2022

2022 was also a record year in terms of ocean heating. This was revealed in a study published by a team of scientists from 16 different organisations, published in the scientific journal Advances in Atmospheric Sciences. The researchers came to this conclusion after having reviewed ocean temperature data, from the surface up to a depth of 2,000 metres, from 1950 onwards. Since 1970, over 90 per cent of the excess heat on the planet was accumulated in the oceans. By itself, the heat accumulated in 2022 is equivalent – in terms of energy – to 100 times the electricity generated throughout the entire year.

“Until we reach net zero emissions, that heating will continue, and we’ll continue to break ocean heat content records, as we did this year. Better awareness and understanding of the oceans are a basis for the actions to combat climate change,” said Michael Mann, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania and a co-author of the study.

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