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WFAE reporter David Boraks explores how the way we live influences climate change and its impact across the Carolinas. You also can read additional national and international climate news.

Global temperature was 6th warmest in 2021, continuing a climate trend

011322 US temps map.jpg
NOAA/National Centers for Environmental Information
The nationwide average temperature of 54.5 degrees in 2021 was the fourth warmest on record.

Federal climate scientists say global average temperatures continued an upward trend in 2021, adding fresh data for arguments that humans need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The annual report from NASA and the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, says 2021 was the sixth warmest on record globally and fourth warmest in the United States, going back to 1895.

Global temperatures have been rising steadily since the 1970s, but the past seven have been the warmest, according to NOAA. NASA says the global average temperature is now about 1.2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. That's fast approaching the threshold of 1.5 degrees set in the Paris Climate Agreement.

011322 Global map .jpg
The 2021 global warming data shows continued higher temperatures in the northern hemisphere and the Arctic.

Rising temperatures lead to extreme weather, said Russell Vose, a NOAA climate scientist at the National Centers for Environmental Information in Asheville.

"Sea surface temperatures that are above normal are going to certainly encourage the development of tropical cyclones, hot dry air certainly provides fuel for fires. Each successive year we're going to expect to see more of these in the future than we have in the past," Vose said.

In the northern hemisphere, the report finds that temperatures are rising fastest on land and in the Arctic, where sea ice is declining. Rising temperatures mean a change in our weather, but also new threats, said UNC Charlotte climate scientist Jack Scheff.

011322 Global temps graph.jpg
Graph shows the trend of global warming. The past seven years have been the warmest (red dots in the upper right). The dots represent the number of degrees Celsius above or below the baseline temperature of 1951-1980.

"In general, it's harder for us to get, you know, winter snowfall than it was in the past. And our summers are, you know, warmer and moister. So that has consequences for human health. It's not good to be outside exerting yourself in heat and humidity," Scheff said.

Scientists say humans are the main cause of global warming, mainly through emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases from vehicles, power plants and factories.

"What we have learned is that temperatures will keep on rising as long as we keep increasing the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere," said Gavin Schmidt, a scientist with NASA.

That's why both the Biden administration and state and local governments have set climate goals. In North Carolina, Gov. Roy Cooper and the Republican-controlled legislature agreed on an energy reform bill last fall to speed the closure of coal-fired power plants. And the governor last week tightened goals for cutting CO2 emissions and shifting to electric vehicles.

But the 2021 climate data show more is needed, said June Blotnick of the environmental group CleanAIRE NC.

"What I see from this report is a real serious need to do more resiliency planning. The heat is here. The weather is here. Yes, we need to cut carbon emissions, but we need to protect our communities," Blotnick said.

That's just one of the many climate-related chores ahead for North Carolina policymakers in 2022.

See more at https://www.nasa.gov/topics/earth/

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David Boraks is a veteran journalist who covers climate change for WFAE. See more at www.wfae.org/climate-news. He also has covered housing and homelessness, energy and the environment, transportation and business.