In Scotland the warmest Hogmanay on record was followed by the hottest New Year’s Day – temperatures were just shy of 16ºC in Glenshiel, when they would normally be more like 7ºC. Meanwhile wildfires burn in Colorado after an exceptionally dry autumn and a winter without snow.
2021 is expected to be the seventh hottest year the world has experienced in recorded history, making all of the last seven years the warmest years ever. July 2021 was the hottest single month ever recorded.
Scottish weather shows warming trend
In Scotland, despite an unusually cold January, eight months were warmer than average and 2021 turned out to the 17th warmest on record, meaning that 14 of the 20 warmest years ever recorded for Scotland have been since 2000.
Along the way we had the second warmest September and the third warmest July in temperature records that go back to 1884. We also experienced the sunniest April in records that go back to 1919, with 2021 the 12th sunniest year ever. Autumn was the third warmest autumn, after 2006 and 2011.
2021 temperatures were close to the long-term average, but that average is taken as 1991 to 2020. Climate change is redefining ‘average.’ Comparing to the old baseline of 1961 to 1990 2021 was nearly 1ºC warmer than average.
We also saw extremes last year, with the first ever Amber extreme heat warning issued by Met Office in July and a rare Red weather warning for Storm Arwen in late November, which
three people die, including one in Scotland.
What we experience from hour to hour and day to day is the weather, what we see from year to year and decade to decade is the signal of climate change. There isn’t the slightest doubt that the climate change trends is clear in both the Scottish and global data.
Climate changes show need for urgent action
We are getting more extremes, so last January was cold and 2010 was an very cold year – the 17th coldest since 1884 and December 2010 was the third coldest December on record. But these are the exceptional extremes, warm weather records are being broken nine times more frequently. Average temperatures are going up and up, driven by fossil fuel emissions from cars, factories, power stations and homes.
Like the rest of north-west Europe we are a bit cushioned from the changing climate, with shifting ocean currents and high-altitude air streams affected by climate change in ways that reduce the full impact of the global temperature rise. Other parts of the world are less protected with the Arctic, central Europe, the Mediterranean and North Africa seeing temperature rises well ahead of the global trend.
The sad truth is that even if we stop emissions rising, temperatures will keep on going up. Even if we start emissions going down, temperatures will still rise, just more slowly. It is only when we reduce emissions to zero that temperatures will stabilise (after a time lag).
November’s COP26 failed to make the big step forward we needed. At home in Scotland and globally 2022 needs to see much more action from governments, companies and individuals if we are to avoid climate chaos.
Dr Richard Dixon is Director of Friends of the Earth Scotland. A version of this article appeared in The Scotsman in January 2022.