Climate Change

2022 saw record-breaking weather events despite 3-year run of La Niña: State of the Global Climate report

There were continuous droughts in East Africa, record rainfall in Pakistan & record heatwaves in China & Europe in 2022

By Rohini Krishnamurthy
Published: Friday 21 April 2023
Over 20 million people in East Africa suffered food insecurity in 2022. Representative photo: iStock._

Climate change continued to wreak havoc in 2022, with several records being broken worldwide, according to the State of the Global Climate 2022 report released April 21, 2022.

Weather and climate-related events pose multiple humanitarian risks, with consequences to ecosystems and the environment, warned the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) that released the document.

“While greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise and the climate continues to change, populations worldwide continue to be gravely impacted by extreme weather and climate events,” WMO secretary-general, Petteri Taalas, said in a statement.

There were continuous droughts in East Africa, record rainfall in Pakistan and record heatwaves in China and Europe in 2022. This affected tens of millions, driving food insecurity and mass migration and costing billions of dollars in loss and damage, he added.

Also read: China faces its longest, most severe drought ever recorded

The global mean temperature in 2022 was 1.15 degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial era (1850-1900) average. Three consecutive years of a cooling La Niña offered no respite. In 2021, for comparison, the global temperature was 1.11°C above the 1850-1900 average. During La Niña events, global temperatures tend to be colder and last around nine months.

The years 2015-2022 were the eight warmest in the instrumental record back to 1850, the report highlighted.

Also, global temperatures in 2021 and 2022 were warmer than in 2011, the last year to be significantly affected by a La Niña event.

Greenhouse gas concentrations reached a record high in 2021, the latest year for which consolidated global figures are available. And global carbon dioxide (CO2) levels in 2021 reached nearly 415.7 parts per million (ppm), 149 per cent higher than the pre-industrial levels. CO2 increase from 2020-2021 exceeded the average annual growth rate over the last decade.

A graph showing the temperature anomaly of 2022 compared to the 1992-2020 average. Source: State of Global climate 2022

A map showing the temperature anomaly of 2022 compared to the 1992-2020 average. Source: State of Global climate 2022

Methane (CH4), 84-86 times more potent than CO2 over 20 years, increased to nearly 1,908 parts per billion (ppb) in 2021 — 262 per cent higher than the pre-industrial levels.

CH4 levels rose by 18 ppb in 2021 compared to 2020-2021 — the largest annual increase on record, with microbial or biogenic sources largely contributing to the rise since 2007.

Nitrous oxide levels in 2021 were estimated to be around 334.5 ppb, 124 per cent higher than the pre-industrial levels.

Oceans, too, have been gravely impacted. The ocean heat content — the total amount of heat stored by the oceans — reached a record high in 2022. Around 90 per cent of the energy trapped by greenhouse gases is absorbed by the ocean, posing risks to marine ecosystems, the report warned.

Despite La Niña conditions, at least one marine heatwave affected 58 per cent of the ocean surface in 2022. A marine heatwave is a period of unusually high ocean temperatures and is defined by its duration and intensity, according to the University of California, San Diego.

Global mean sea level reached a new record high. The rate of increase, the report explained, has doubled during 1993-2002 (a rise of 2.27 millimetres per year) and 2013-2022 (a rise of 4.62 millimetres annually).

Ice loss from glaciers in Greenland and Antarctica contributed 36 per cent to the global mean sea level rise during 2005–2019.

Further, water expands as the ocean warms. This phenomenon has contributed 55 per cent to global mean sea level rise. Variations in land water storage contributed less than 10 per cent, the findings showed.

Heatwaves, droughts & floods

East Africa faced drought after below-average rainfall in five consecutive wet seasons. As a result, over 20 million people suffered food insecurity across the region.

Also read: Is eastern Africa’s drought the worst in recent history? And are worse yet to come?

Record-breaking rainfall in Pakistan led to flooding, affecting over 33 million people and displacing almost eight million. Total damage and economic losses amounted to $30 billion.

Europe and China saw record-breaking heatwaves. Over 15,000 deaths due to excess heat have been documented across Spain, Germany, the United Kingdom, France and Portugal.

China’s heatwave, from mid-June to the end of August, marked the hottest summer in the country. China also faced the second-driest summer on record.

“We have the tools, the knowledge, and the solutions. But we must pick up the pace. We need accelerated climate action with deeper, faster emissions cuts to limit global temperature rise to 1.5°C,” UN Secretary-General António Guterres said.

Guterres highlighted the need for massively scaled-up investments in adaptation and resilience, particularly for the most vulnerable countries and communities who have done the least to cause the crisis.

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