In a fire storm: 2020 earned the distinction of being the second hottest year on record as massive wildfires and prolonged heatwaves devastated large parts of the Australia, US and the Arctic | Photo Earthjustice. org

The 2020 Climate news round up

Yet another year for the record books

India’s monsoon flooding wreaks havoc, Atlantic records most dramatic hurricane season in history; 

India, this year, reported an ‘above normal’ monsoon season that was the second-most active in 30 years. Large-scale flooding due to heavy rainfall and swollen rivers caused at least 1,500 deaths across the country. The north-eastern state of Assam experienced some of the worst flooding that killed over 100 people and affected some 5.6 million people.

The Atlantic in the US witnessed its most dramatic hurricane season this year. The region recorded this highest number of storms ever – 30 between June 1 to November 30. They were also the earliest storms in history. Another rare occurrence was a five-storm system that occurred in the Atlantic Ocean was brewing for only the second time in history. Hurricane Eta and Iota also made landfall in the region.

In Asia, cyclones Amphan, Nisarga and Burevi made their presence felt in India, while Cyclone Gati in Somalia washed out parts of the country by bringing in two years’ worth of rain in just a couple of days. 

Heatwaves, wildfires devastate parts of Australia, USA and Arctic

The year began with reports of Australian wildfires that had continued into the new year thanks to a prolonged and severe heatwave that lasted throughout the country’s summer season. There were reports of animals perishing and the scorching of more than 11 million hectares of land. Australia is bracing for another wildfire season, which some experts believe could be even more devastating than before.  

In western USA, record dry weather in the latter half of 2019 led to a series of major wildfires across California, Oregon and Washington that began in April. Thousands were evacuated and more than 8.2 million acres of land was destroyed in the wildfires.

Russia’s fire season began early this year because of an unusually hot winter and spring. The Arctic town of Verkhoyansk recorded the highest-ever temperature reading north of the Arctic circle at 38°C. The Siberian fires began in February and picked up speed in March, burning through 20 million hectares of land.  

Rapidly melting Ice in Antarctica could lead to large-scale coastal flooding, warn scientists

A study published in Nature Climate Change in August this year warned that the rising rate of melting ice sheets in Antarctica and Greenland could expose 16 million people living in coastal areas to flooding by the end of the century. It predicted a further sea level of 17 cm, which was enough to increase storm-surge flooding in the largest coastal cities in the world, researchers said. 

In the Arctic, the Milne Ice Shelf, in Ellesmere Island, which was Canada’s last fully intact ice shelf, melted into the sea. The St Patrick’s Bay ice caps on the other end of the island also completely melted this year. According to scientists, the Greenland Ice Sheet has also melted to the point of no return.   

This year, scientists also discovered frozen methane deposits in the Arctic Ocean have started to release near the east Siberian coast. They found toxic levels of the greenhouse gas in the Laptev Sea in Russia. This is cause for concern because methane has a warming effect that is 80 times more than CO2 over a two decade period.   

CO2 emissions drop during lockdown just a blip in the long-term scenario: Studies

A report called the Global Carbon Budget, published in December, estimated the total CO2 emissions for the year 2020 were 34 billion metric tonnes – about 7% lower than than 2019 — mainly because of the COVID-19 lockdown.  

But while there was a clear drop in emission levels during the COVID-19 lockdowns across the world, the State of the Global Climate report by the World Health Organisation (WHO) dashed any optimism that arose from this dip. The report, published in December, stated that the reduction was at best a blip when it came to long-term GHG emission trends. The report went one step further to state that CO2, methane and nitrous oxide emissions were, in fact, on the rise in 2020.

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) also released its Emissions Gap report this year. The report found 2020 would be one of the warmest years on record. The global mean temperature was 1.2°C above the 1850-1900 baseline, which is marginally more than 2019, the WMO said, adding that more than 80% of the world’s oceans also experienced a marine heatwave.

Locust outbreak wreaks havoc in Africa, parts of Asia; linked to climate change

New locust swarms continue to form in Kenya and threaten crops. These swarms wreaked havoc this year in dozens of countries, including Ethiopia, Uganda, Somalia, Eritrea, India, Pakistan, Iran, Yemen, Oman and Saudi Arabia.

In India, which was already battling the COVID-19 pandemic, these large unusual swarms destroyed crops in Rajasthan, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh, a state where these pests had not been seen for decades. According to experts, the reason for this plague was a change in the cyclonic patterns in the Arabian Sea.