Despite La Niña’s Cooling Effects, 2022 Was Among The Hottest Years Ever Recorded

Another revolution around the sun, another year of climate and weather extremes and billion-dollar disasters.

Three independent assessments of global temperatures released this week found that 2022 was among the hottest years in recorded history — the latest sobering reminder of the consequences of the world’s collective failure to sufficiently curb planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions.

NASA’s analysis concluded that 2022 tied 2015 as the fifth warmest year since record-keeping began in 1880. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said that last year was the sixth warmest year on record. Global temperatures over land and sea in 2002 were approximately 2 degrees Fahrenheit (about 1.11 degrees Celsius) above the late 19th-century average, NASA found.

And that’s despite a strong La Niña, a periodic weather pattern that has a cooling effect across the globe. In fact, 2022 was the warmest La Niña year ever recorded.

Gavin Schmidt, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, said that if you tried to correct for the effects of El Niño-Southern Oscillation ― the cyclical variations that give us El Niño and La Niña ― then 2022 would have likely been the second warmest year ever recorded.

“What we’re seeing is this continued, long-term trend in temperatures that are now regularly more than a degree Celsius above the late 19th century,” Schmidt told HuffPost. “The last nine years are the warmest nine years in the record. This is really a very strong, long-term trend.”

“The warming is relentless and it is everywhere,” he added.

A formerly sunken boat stands upright with its stern buried in the mud along the shoreline of Lake Mead at the Lake Mead National Recreation Area on June 22, 2022, near Boulder City, Nevada.
A formerly sunken boat stands upright with its stern buried in the mud along the shoreline of Lake Mead at the Lake Mead National Recreation Area on June 22, 2022, near Boulder City, Nevada.

John Locher via Associated Press

On Tuesday, an annual assessment from the European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service similarly found that 2022 was the fifth hottest year on record and that the last eight years were the eight warmest years on record. Europe experienced its second hottest year and its warmest-ever summer.

“2022 was yet another year of climate extremes across Europe and globally,” Samantha Burgess, deputy director of the Copernicus Climate Change Service, said in a statement accompanying the announcement. “These events highlight that we are already experiencing the devastating consequences of our warming world.”

The Paris climate accord, which the U.S. re-entered in February 2021, set an ambitious goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. Scientists the world over have warned that failing to do so risks locking in catastrophic and irreversible effects. A landmark United Nations report last year all but extinguished any hope of achieving the 1.5-degree target.

But scientists stress that every bit of warming averted will mean less suffering and devastation around the globe.

“Today’s announcement underscores what we already know to be true,” NASA administrator Bill Nelson said during a press call Thursday. “If our leaders, not only here but across the world, do not act on this scientific data, our ice sheets will continue to melt, our oceans will become more acidic, extreme weather will intensify.”

“This is a call for action,” he said.

A melting pond is seen inside an iceberg from the Greenland ice sheet in the Baffin Bay near Pituffik, Greenland, on July 17, 2022.
A melting pond is seen inside an iceberg from the Greenland ice sheet in the Baffin Bay near Pituffik, Greenland, on July 17, 2022.

KEREM YUCEL via Getty Images

Global emissions are still on the rise. The Global Carbon Budget projected in November that global carbon pollution would reach a record high in 2022. The U.S., the second largest carbon polluter behind China, saw emissions tick up 1.3% last year compared to 2021, according to a preliminary estimate this week by the economic research company Rhodium Group.

Emissions in the U.S. had steadily declined before and during the first year of the coronavirus pandemic, but rebounded in 2021.

Climate change, largely fueled by mankind’s decades-long addiction to fossil fuels, is already wreaking havoc around the globe. 2022 was marked by extreme heat and drought in Europe and China, catastrophic flooding in Pakistan and one of the strongest hurricanes ever to make landfall in the U.S.

In 2022, the U.S. suffered 18 weather and climate disasters that caused at least $1 billion in damages each, NOAA announced earlier this week. Those included Hurricane Ian in September, the persistent drought in the West, and a series of spring tornados in the South. Together, the 18 disasters cost $165 billion and resulted in 474 deaths.

“People are seeing the impacts of a changing climate system where they live, work and play on a regular basis,” NOAA administrator Rick Spinrad said at a Tuesday press conference, according to The Associated Press. “With a changing climate, buckle up. More extreme events are expected.”

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