Climate MattersJanuary 13, 2022

2021 in Review: Global Temperature Rankings

2021 in Review: Global Temperature Rankings

KEY CONCEPTS

  • NASA and NOAA’s year-end temperature data indicate that 2021 was 1.98°F (1.10°C) warmer than the beginning of the 20th century.

  • Despite the global cooling effect of the ongoing La Niña, this year still ranked as the 6th hottest year on record according to NASA and NOAA. 

  • Ed Hawkins has added 2021 to the famous warming stripes—a visual representation of the human-caused rise in global temperatures since 1850.

Global Warming Stripes - 2021 in Review: Global Temperature Rankings
Global Warming Stripes
Change in Global Temperature - 2021 in Review: Global Temperature Rankings
Change in Global Temperature
Global Top 10 Hottest Years - 2021 in Review: Global Temperature Rankings
Global Top 10 Hottest Years

2021 was the planet’s 6th hottest year on record, according to NASA and NOAA’s year-end temperature analyses.

  • This year’s warmth is consistent with long-term warming trends. The top 10 hottest years on record have all occurred in the last 12 years. 

  • Averaging NASA and NOAA data, Climate Central’s analysis shows that 2021 was 1.98°F (1.1°C) warmer than the 1881-1910 baseline—dangerously close to the internationally-agreed goal of limiting global warming to 2.7°F (1.5°C) above pre-industrial levels.

  • The steep rise in global temperatures since the mid-20th century reflects human-caused emissions of heat-trapping greenhouse gases, which continued to climb in 2021. 

The world is heating up, even during a cooling phase. This winter saw a La Niña – the cold phase of El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) – develop for the second year in a row. 2021’s record warmth indicates that even a global cooling phenomenon like La Niña is not enough to briefly mask human-caused warming.

The globe has earned its stripes… but don’t celebrate just yet.

  • The warming stripes graphic, created by Professor Ed Hawkins, a climate scientist at the University of Reading, visualizes changes in annual temperature relative to a 1971-2000 average. 

  • A blue stripe represents a below-average annual temperature, and red an above-average temperature. 2021's stripe is a dark red.

What to expect in 2022:

  • La Niña is predicted to continue but weaken into the spring. The absence of La Niña conditions may bring even higher temperatures next winter. 

  • The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) will publish two major scientific reports—focused on climate change impacts, adaptation and vulnerability and on climate change mitigation, respectively—in the first quarter of 2022.

  • In November, an international climate summit (COP27) will bring approximately 200 countries together to increase ambition and measure progress on pledges set during last year’s conference in areas like methane reduction and deforestation. 

JOIN OUR TEAM: We’re hiring a Meteorologist and a Researcher/Writer, and we’d be delighted to hear from you. 

POTENTIAL LOCAL STORY ANGLES

How do the 2021 global rankings compare to the U.S. and other regions around the world?
U.S. rankings can be found in our last Climate Matters release. Information and rankings of other countries and regions are recorded in the NOAA 2021 Global Climate Report. The website also allows you to select specific months, and look at significant events that occurred around the world. You can access a 2021 map of temperature anomalies here.

What are the signs and impacts of climate change in your local area?
See our latest seasonal packages (fall, winter, spring, and summer) for U.S. temperature trends and impacts. The EPA explores a number of climate change indicators with relevant maps and explanations here. Our media library brings together localized graphics for various media markets on topics like wildfires, sea level rise, and even pet health

How extreme was 2021's weather? 
Here is an interactive map of extreme events for 2021. An increasing number of billion dollar disasters, with a decreasing amount of time between events, makes it difficult for communities to recover. Natural disasters in 2021 cost the world an estimated $120 billion, ranking second only to 2017. 

LOCAL EXPERTS 

The SciLine service, 500 Women Scientists or the press offices of local universities may be able to connect you with local scientists who have expertise on climate change and temperature anomalies in your area. The American Association of State Climatologists is a professional scientific organization composed of all state climatologists

NASA and NOAA scientists will be available for media interviews on 2021 Global Temperatures on Jan. 13 from 12-3 PM (EST) and Jan. 14 from 6-11 AM (EST). Access interview request form here.

NATIONAL EXPERTS 

  • Russell Vose
    Chief, Climate Analysis and Synthesis Branch 
    Climatic Science and Services Division
    NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI)
    Expertise: climate science & observations, physical impacts, Arctic region
    russell.vose@noaa.gov

  • Diana Liverman
    Regents Professor of Geography, Development and Environment
    University of Arizona
    Expertise: Climate impacts, vulnerability and adaptation, climate governance
    liverman@u.arizona.edu

  • Steve Vavrus
    Senior Scientist, Nelson Institute Center for Climatic Research
    University of Wisconsin-Madison
    Expertise: climate modelling, physical impacts, extreme weather
    sjvavrus@wisc.edu

  • Federico Castillo
    Research Specialist and Lecturer, Department of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management
    University of California - Berkeley
    Expertise: climate impacts, policy, extreme weather
    f.castillo@berkeley.edu
    *Also available for interviews in Spanish

METHODOLOGY

Calculations of average annual global temperature are performed independently at NASA and NOAA. Small differences in their calculations arise as NASA’s calculations are extrapolated to account for polar locations with poor station coverage, while NOAA relies more heavily on the polar station data. Climate Central compares temperatures to an earlier 1880-1910 baseline to assess warming during the industrial era. Calculations of 2016 and 2020 showed a virtual tie (2016: 1.263°C, 2020: 1.254°C). The “warming stripes” was conceived and calculated by Ed Hawkins, as described here.