Geographies in Depth

2020 was Europe's hottest year on record as Arctic wildfires raged

An aerial view shows the Taiga wood burning near the village of Boguchany, about 560 km (348 miles) northeast of Russia's Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk, June 2, 2011. Dry, hot weather, dry thunder storms and human factors influenced the distribution of the fires in Siberia, according to Emergencies Ministry members. Picture taken June 2, 2011. REUTERS/Ilya Naymushin (RUSSIA - Tags: ENVIRONMENT DISASTER IMAGES OF THE DAY) - GM1E7641BIG01

The summer of 2020 saw record-breaking wildfires. Image: REUTERS/Ilya Naymushin

Kate Abnett
Reporter, Reuters
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  • Europe's average annual temperature in 2020 was the highest on record.
  • It was at least 0.4 degrees Celsius above the next five warmest years.
  • The increases in global temperature were felt around the world, with record-breaking wildfires in the Arctic.

Europe experienced its hottest year on record last year, while the Arctic suffered a summer of extreme wildfires partly due to low snow cover as climate change impacts intensified, the European Union's observation service said on Thursday.

As world leaders prepared to brandish their plans to fight climate change at a U.S.-led summit on Thursday, EU scientists issued a stark reminder that the impacts of a warmer world are already here.

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Europe's average annual temperature in 2020 was the highest on record and at least 0.4 degrees Celsius above the next five warmest years -- all of which took place in the last decade, the Copernicus Earth observation service said.

"Temperatures are increasing in all seasons in Europe," said Freja Vamborg, senior scientist at Copernicus.

Copernicus' temperature records go back to 1950. But last year was also Europe's hottest on record when checked against datasets beginning in 1850, it said.

Arctic European Union Climate Change
Europe's average annual temperature in 2020 was the highest on record. Image: European Union's Copernicus Climate Change Service

It was the hottest winter on record, at 3.4 degrees Celsius above the average European winter temperature seen during 1981-2020.

It was also Europe's warmest autumn, while summer heatwaves were not as intense or prolonged as in recent years, despite pockets of record-breaking heat in places including Scandinavia and France.

Meanwhile, the Arctic saw a "spectacular year", Vamborg said, pointing to a summer of record-breaking wildfires in Arctic Siberia, which were exacerbated by high temperatures and lower-than-average snow cover.

The average temperature in Arctic Siberia last year broke records by a large margin at 4.3 degrees Celsius above the 1981-2020 average.

Globally, Copernicus Earth said 2020 was one of the world's three hottest years on record, confirming findings released this week by the World Meteorological Organization.


What’s the World Economic Forum doing about climate change?

The EU on Wednesday set a target to slash emissions faster this decade, and the United States is expected to do the same on Thursday, hiking the pressure on countries including China and India.

Currently, countries' combined pledges fall far short of the rapid emissions cuts scientists say are needed to limit warming to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels and stave off the most severe impacts of climate change. (Reporting by Kate Abnett; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

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