European researchers on Wednesday said 2019 was the second-hottest year in recorded history, the latest bellwether as activists and scientists urge dramatic action to rein in carbon emissions and the fallout from climate change.
The findings, published by the Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S), a monitoring agency backed by the European Union, underscore a series of bleak reports published in recent months: The world is getting hotter, ice sheets are melting faster, oceans are rising more and animals are dying at a breakneck pace.
“2019 has been another exceptionally warm year, in fact the second warmest globally in our dataset, with many of the individual months breaking records,” Carlo Buontempo, the head of C3S, said in a statement.
Only 2016 was hotter, but just by a razor-thin margin of 0.04 degree Celsius. The 2010s were also the warmest decade on record, researchers noted.
The results come as another environmental tragedy, a string of severe bushfires in Australia, have cast a sharp lens on the effects of climate change not just decades in the future but right now. The country has been on fire for more than a month, scorching 12 million acres so far. At least 24 people have been killed, more than 2,600 homes have been destroyed and some experts estimate more than a billion animals have perished in the blazes.
Though climate change doesn’t cause wildfires, it can exacerbate conditions, experts say. This year’s fire season in Australia has been particularly hot and dry, and 2019 was the country’s hottest and driest on record. (In the U.S., California also experienced a devastating fire season last year, and the state’s fire agency has said climate change is a “key driver” of a longer, more intense fire season.)
“The past five years have been the five warmest on record [globally]; the last decade has been the warmest on record: These are unquestionably alarming signs,” Jean-Noël Thépaut, the director of ECMWF Copernicus, said in a statement.
But though scientists have been issuing increasingly bleak warnings about the rate of global carbon emissions and the pace of climate change, the planet has largely failed to rein in the burning of fossil fuels, the main driver of climate change.
Researchers released forecasts last month that the planet would release more carbon emissions than ever before in 2019. Officials have urged the world to wean itself off fossil fuels by 2050 in order to keep the planet from warming more than 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, the threshold scientists say the planet must stay beneath to avert the worst effects of climate change.
Even at that level of warming, the planet would see a slew of dramatic effects, including the deaths of 70% to 90% of the planet’s coral reefs.
Despite the bleak news, 2019 did bring renewed attention and demands that world leaders address climate change, including a worldwide series of demonstrations spearheaded by Swedish activist Greta Thunberg.
U.S. science agencies, including NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, will release their own detailed looks at the climate later this month.