State of the Climate in 2020

Emissions from fossil fuel use in 2020 dropped by around 6% to 7% over 2019 due to decreased activity during the pandemic, however atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2), still reached the highest levels in the modern climate record.

While the world’s human population struggled with the pandemic, signs of a changing climate did not abate. This is a stark reminder that factors leading to a changing climate are determined by time horizons far longer than a single year and have an inertia that will take a significant effort over a much longer period to halt, much less reverse.

The effects of the drop in fossil fuel emissions are not discernable in atmospheric CO2 in 2020 over 2019 due to the relative magnitude of interannual variability in natural CO2 sources and sinks. Ocean carbon uptake, terrestrial photosynthetic activity and, to a lesser extent, biomass burning are some of the CO2 sinks and/or sources whose collective year-to-year variability is larger than, and indistinguishable from, the 2020 drop in fossil fuel emissions.

The State of the Climate in 2020 catalogues some of the most significant weather events that have hit the world’s nations, including:

  • two devastating hurricanes that hit Nicaragua and other Central American countries within two weeks of each other
  • the hurricane with the strongest wind velocity to hit Louisiana in more than 150 years
  • the strongest tropical cyclone to make landfall in the historic record
  • the extraordinarily long rain season in East Africa that raised lake levels and increased terrestrial water storage enough to affect global ocean mass storage
  • the third-highest temperature ever recorded anywhere in the world (pending certification) occurring in Death Valley, California (54.4°C)
  • Basra, Iraq, recording two successive days with maximum air temperature above 53°C
  • the highest temperature ever recorded in Antarctica (which occurred during a persistent period of abnormally high air temperatures and was accompanied by the largest ever satellite recorded late-summer ice melt on the Antarctic Peninsula affecting more than 50% of the area)

The State of the Climate in 2020 is compiled by the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration’s National Centers for Environmental Information based on contributions from scientists from around the world.  It provides a detailed update on global climate indicators, notable weather events, and other data collected by environmental monitoring stations.  The full report is available HERE.