On 10th January 2022, the Copernicus Climate Change Service issued a press release relating to its report on the climate in 2021. It struck me as being deliberately alarmist in terms of the findings it stressed, and this duly enabled the usual suspects, such as the Guardian and the BBC, to give it significant publicity and use it to hype up the threat of “climate chaos”. It received a heck of a lot of media interest. I covered it in Top Spini on the same day.
It seemed to me that it was only a matter of time (and a short time at that) before other climate data organisations (such as NOAA and NASA) released something similarly alarmist, and the opportunity would be taken by the media to rinse and repeat. But something strange happened. When NOAA and NASA produced a joint reportii, they did their best to sound alarmist, but they couldn’t match the job done by Copernicus. Consequently, it didn’t make the BBC at all (unless I missed it, but if I missed it, it could only be because it was very low key). Of course the Guardian did its best to make something of it, although in doing so it really relied instead on information from the Berkeley Institute. The NOAA/NASA report, despite doing its best to be alarmist, wasn’t sufficiently so – good news is no news.
Berkeley Earth Report – No News
Inevitably, the Guardian’s headline was alarmist: “Nearly quarter of world’s population had record hot year in 2021, data shows”iii.
That rather dodgy and inaccurate headline was based on this:
A total of 1.8 billion people, approaching a quarter of the world’s population, live in countries that did experience the hottest year on record, according to a separate analysis released on Thursday by Berkeley Earth.
No link was offered up to substantiate that claim, but a quick search online revealed the methodology, by reference to Berkeley Earth’s own reportiv on 2021, which has this to say on the subject:
In Berkeley Earth’s estimation, 2021 had the warmest annual average since instrumental records began in the following 25 countries:
Bangladesh, Bahrain, Benin, Bhutan, Burkina Faso, China, Ghana, Guinea, Iran, Kuwait, Liberia, Malta, Myanmar, Nigeria, North Korea, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Sierra Leone, South Korea, Togo, Tunisia, Turkmenistan, United Arab Emirates
This is fewer than the 45 countries that experienced record warming in 2020, but especially with the inclusion of China this still represents a substantial fraction of the world’s population that has just lived through the warmest year in their local history. We estimate that approximately 1.8 billion people live in areas that observed their locally warmest year during 2021.
I have to say I’m mightily unconvinced by this methodology. Many of those countries will have had meaningful and accurate temperature gauges and records over substantial parts of their land areas (the only way in which the claim can mean anything) for relatively short periods.
So far as I can gather (following a determined if amateurish search of the internet), meaningful records go back among those countries, to the following dates:
Bhutan: I simply can’t find out, but with a population of less than 1 million, it doesn’t contribute much to claims about nearly a quarter of the world’s population.
Burkina Faso: 1920 (partial); 1960 (more comprehensive?).
China: Difficult to say, but the World Data websitev says this:
In the years 1985 to 2020 there were only these 3 weather stations in the whole country, which reported continuous temperature values (Beijing, Yinchuan, Wu Lu Mu Qi).
Ghana: 1886 (3 stations only). Thereafter:
By 1957 there were 14 synoptic stations, which had a full range of normal meteorological instruments and equipment, manned 24 hours a day. These were supported by app. 350 stations measuring precipitation, temperature, humidity, wind, clouds etc. taken one [sic] or twice per day. The 1960s saw rapid expansion but the economic troubles in the 1970s and the early 1980s caused a decline in the number of meteorological stations operating. In the late 1990s a [sic] upgrading has started…
Iran: 1956? I did find this (at the CORE website): “Weather stations are sparsely distributed and access to complete weather data is limited”.
Kuwait: Kuwait Meteorological Department of the Directorate General of Civil Aviation was established in 1953.
Liberia: ? But in 2010, the Norwegian Government helped set up a National Hydrometric Network & Database. “As the project started, the Liberian hydrometric network was non-operational and LHS for nearly 30 past years did not collect any hydrological data.”vi
Malta: 1922? But note this qualification:
This document identifies a number of discontinuities in the trends of various weather elements. Such discontinuities occur at a change-point when the sequence of values stops sharing a statistical distribution evident in previous years. The most common change-point involves a discontinuity in the mean. However, other ‘external’ factors can contribute to discontinuities in climate-related time series, such as the movement of weather station location, or changes in type of instrumentation or recording practices. These factors must be considered in any climate analysis. Another aspect could be the effect of urbanisation change patterns around Luqa Airport on the local climate. The most noticeable change since 1951 is the gradual replacement of rural and agricultural areas with new urban settlements. Concrete and asphalt heat-up during the day cool only slowly at night. Buildings and structures also change the ground-level wind flow and create eddies. However, the impact that encroaching urbanisation has on our local meteorological variables such as ambient temperature is hard to quantify.vii
Nigeria: ? However, the NiMet (Nigerian Meterological Agency) websiteviii observes that the World Meteorological Organisation requests member countries to ensure adequate monitoring of weather by ensuring that the gap between two weather stations is not more than 50km. “NiMet is yet to attain this level in our station network density”.
North Korea: Good luck with that!
Saudi Arabia: 1946.
Sierra Leone: 1923.
South Korea: 1948. “In South Korea, the number of stations operated over 50 years is less than 15…”ix
Turkmenistan: Another “good luck with that”. This is a country under fire for under-reporting covid cases and under-reporting greenhouse gas emissions.
United Arab Emirates: 1944?
As regards national average temperatures, I can’t resist adding in this quote (contra Berkeley Earth) from the World Data website’s pagex on Benin’s climate:
In contrast to single record values, a long-term development cannot simply be brought about by all weather stations in the country. Both the number and the locations are constantly changing. A simply calculated average value would give a falsified result. If several measuring stations in particularly cold mountain or coastal regions are added in one year, the average would already decrease as a result of this alone. If a station fails during the summer or winter months, it does not provide any values and falsifies the average again. The subsequent long-term development was therefore reduced to only 2 measuring points in order to have actually comparable data over as long a period as possible. In the years 1960 to 2020 there were only these 2 weather stations in the whole country, which reported continuous temperature values (Save, Cotonou).
This is a very real problem in attempting to ascertain climate trends, especially in Africa. The first problem is that before the late 19th century data-recording over much of the continent was virtually non-existent and that during the first half of the 20th century it was patchy at best. The second problem is the paucity of information available even now, compared to much of the rest of the world:
Africa has just one-eighth the minimum density of weather stations recommended by the World Meteorological Organization, which means there is a problematic lack of data about dozens of countries that are among the most vulnerable to climate change.
On the ground, the dearth of data has meant inaccurate forecasts and poor or nonexistent early-warning systems for people increasingly experiencing [sic] deadly cyclones, prolonged droughts and intense floods. In the academic world, researchers say the lack of data has led to challenges in measuring the extent of climate change. And for leaders preparing for the United Nations climate summit this fall, the absence of hard numbers could make it difficult to prove global warming’s impact on the continent, said Izidine Pinto, one of the authors of a recent landmark U.N. Climate report.
“This is one of the biggest problems in Africa,” Pinto said of the data inequity, which is also notable in large parts of South America and increasingly drawing international attention. “You cannot research without data. You cannot do anything.”xi
Nowhere (so far as I can see) are Berkeley Earth claiming individual record temperatures. No, just that in their “estimation” those countries “had the warmest annual average since instrumental records began”. Of course, including China gets you to the Guardian’s headline about nearly a quarter of the world’s population having a record hot year. Let’s get real – they didn’t. Even Berkeley Earth has this to say about China:
The annual average in China during 2021 set a new record high, exceeding 2.0 °C (3.8 °F) above pre-industrial levels for the first time. This record warmth occurred over many of the most populated regions of China and contributed to more than 1 billion people experiencing their locally warmest year.
Did the Guardian exclude the 450 million or so Chinese who weren’t included in that statistic, when making their claim?
What do warmest year claims mean in the context of countries with sparse weather data over only relatively short periods? Not enough to justify either Berkeley Earth’s claims or the Guardian’s headline, in my assessment.
NOAA – Good News
Let’s take a look at what the NOAA summaryxii tells us. I’ll be honest, I’m going to concentrate on the non-alarmist data, since the joint NASA/NOAA report and the Guardian article have already concentrated (solely) on the rest of it. In fact, so far as I can see, most of it is non-alarmist, which is why, I imagine, it didn’t make much of a splash in the mainstream media. Here are some of the main points:
The year culminated as the sixth warmest year on record for the globe
The 2021 Northern Hemisphere surface temperature was also the sixth highest on record.
Meanwhile, the Southern Hemisphere had its ninth warmest year on record.
North America had its seventh warmest year on record
The Hawaiian region’s yearly temperature was the coolest since 2012
The Caribbean region had its eighth warmest year on record.
The year 2021 was South America’s sixth warmest year on record
The year 2021 was Europe’s ninth warmest year on record
Although Europe’s April 2021 temperature was above average, it was Europe’s coldest month of the year and it was the coldest April since 2003. Similarly, May 2021 was Europe’s coldest May since 2004. Several European countries had their coldest April or May in at least 10 years.
Parts of western and central Europe experienced really cold temperatures during the first week of April, with several locations setting new low minimum temperatures. Of note, there were several locations across Slovenia that had their coldest April temperature in over 100 years. The weather station in Nova Vas, southern Slovenia, recorded a minimum temperature of -20.6°C (-5.1°F) — a new all-time national record for April, exceeding the previous record of -20.4°C (-4.7°F) set on April 9, 1956 at Pokljuka. Vegetation across these areas was damaged due to the really cold temperatures. [Not that this is good news!].
Austria, as a whole, had its coldest year since 2010, with a temperature that was 0.1°C (0.2°F) below the 1991–2020 average.
With a yearly continental average temperature of 1.33°C (2.39°F) above average, Africa had its third warmest year (tying with 2019) in the 112-year record. [Which reinforces my point about the limited temporal nature of much data].
Oceania had an above average temperature of +0.67°C (+1.21°C). Despite it being a warmer-than-average year, it was the coldest year since 2012…Although the year began with an above-average temperature for Oceania, the months of January through April had a temperature that was the coldest for their respective month since at least 2015.
Global cyclone activity: 94 storms, including 37 hurricanes/cyclones/typhoons. The number of global hurricane-strength storms was the lowest in the 41 year record.
Arctic sea ice extent: During its growth season, the Arctic had its seventh-smallest annual maximum extent (tied with 2007) on record. During its melt season, the Arctic had its twelfth-smallest annual minimum extent on record.
Antarctic sea ice extent: During its growth season, the Antarctic reached a maximum extent that was near-average. During its melt season, the Antarctic had its 12th smallest minimum extent on record.
So there you have it – the climate news from 2021 that wasn’t of much interest to the mainstream media. Good news is no news.