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2021 ‘a disappointment for climate worriers’ – ‘2021 wasn’t the hottest year on record. Nor was it 2nd hottest, or even 3rd hottest. Nope, not 4th hottest either’


Today saw the press releasei from the Copernicus Climate Change Service regarding their findings relating to the climate in 2021. It featured in the news, of course, and was given prominence by both the BBCii and the Guardianiii. The headlines from Copernicus, the BBC and the Guardian respectively were:

Copernicus: Globally, the seven hottest years on record were the last seven; carbon dioxide and methane concentrations continue to rise

Past seven years hottest on record – EU satellite data

Climate crisis: last seven years the hottest on record, 2021 data shows

Global heating continued unabated with extreme weather rife and greenhouse gases hitting new highs

I think this is what is called spin. 2021 must have been a disappointment for climate worriers keen to ratchet up panic and demands for ever-more urgent action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Yes, there were some extreme (but not unprecedented) weather events around the world, as there always have been and as there always will be, and yes, these enabled the likes of Christian Aid to produce a reportiv in doom-laden tones, which in turn enabled the BBC to produce a report about a report and pretend it was “Science & Environment” news. But there was a fly in the ointment. Despite greenhouse gas emissions rising to new highs (by modern standards), as the global economy bounced back from the recession induced by attempts to repress the coronavirus, 2021 wasn’t the hottest year on record. Nor was it the second hottest, or even the third hottest. Nope, not the fourth hottest either.

And so the information had to be presented in a different way, in order to produce the desired effect. The opening line of the Copernicus report, and of the reports on it by the BBC and the Guardian were therefore, respectively, as follows:

The European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service releases its annual findings which show that globally 2021 was among the seven warmest on record.

The past seven years have been the hottest on record, according to new data from the EU’s satellite system.

The last seven years were the world’s hottest on record, with the first analysis of global temperature in 2021 showing it was 1.2C above pre-industrial levels.

In case we didn’t get the message from the headlines, the opening line, in each case, hammered it home again. The last seven years have been hot, hot, hot!

Unlike the Guardian, which shrieks the message in unrelenting terms throughout its report, the BBC does at least manage to mention some of the slightly less sensationalist parts of the report, albeit downplaying them and submerging them in an unrelenting message of fear and doom.

Given that neither the BBC nor the Guardian reports provided a link to the Copernicus press release (for in truth, that is really all it is at this stage), and given that the Guardian didn’t mention the non-scary bits, I set them out below, for the sake of balance and completeness:

Within these seven years, 2021 ranks among the cooler years, alongside 2015 and 2018.

Globally, 2021 was the fifth warmest year on record, but only marginally warmer than 2015 and 2018

Globally, the first five months of the year experienced relatively low temperatures compared to the recent very warm years.

The most below-average temperatures were found in western and easternmost Siberia, Alaska, over the central and eastern Pacific – concurrent with La Niña conditions at the beginning and the end of the year –, as well as in most of Australia and in parts of Antarctica.

For the year as a whole, Europe was just 0.1 °C above the 1991-2020 average, which ranks outside the ten warmest years

The last months of winter and the whole of spring were generally close to or below the 1991-2020 average over Europe. A cold phase in April, after a relatively warm March, caused late season frost in the western parts of the continent.

June and July were both the second warmest of their respective months, while August was close to average overall, but saw a large split between above-average temperatures in the south and below-average temperatures in the north.

I suppose the headline “Europe experiences average temperatures during the winter and spring and a year of temperatures outside the ten warmest years” didn’t fit the bill. Oh well.