2020 Was Hottest Year Ever for Asia

ON 11/02/2021 AT 11:10 PM

A report just released by the United Nations’ World Meteorological Organization shows countries in Asia in 2020 recorded the highest overall temperatures ever for the region. It also demonstrates with surgical precision the human and financial cost there due to continued inaction to address the climate crisis.

Mean Temperature Anomalies in Asia in 2020

Temperature anomalies (°C) relative to the 1981–2010 long-term average from the JRA-55 reanalysis for 2020. Data sources: Tokyo Climate Center, Japan Meteorological Agency Photo: World Meteorological Organization

According to the WMO, the mean temperature for all of Asia in 2020 was 1.39° C (2.5° F) warmer than the 1981-2010 average.

That temperature includes the record 38° C (100.4° F) temperature set last year in the Russian city of Verkhoyansk, located in northern Siberia. That is the highest temperature ever measured any place north of the Arctic Circle.

While the temperatures are at all-time highs, what is perhaps more important for the world to track is that 2020 was a year in which it was impossible for most in Asia to ignore the damage this global heating caused to the countries in the region.

“Extreme weather and climate change impacts across Asia in 2020 caused the loss of life of thousands of people, displaced millions of others and cost hundreds of billions of dollars, while wreaking a heavy toll on infrastructure and ecosystems,” the report noted. “Sustainable development is threatened, with food and water insecurity, health risks and environmental degradation on the rise.”

Flooding in Kerachi, Pakistan, in 2020.

Among the many climate disasters which hit Asia in 2020 was this flooding in Kerachi, Pakistan.. The Asia region dealt with extreme weather events of all kinds throughout most countries last year. From the State of the Climate in Asia 2020 report by the WMO. Photo: World Meteorological Organization.

During 2020, China alone incurred around $238 billion in climate-related damages. India was the second-most effected, with losses running at $87 billion. Japan came in third with $83 billion in damages and South Korea at $24 billion.

On a percentage-of-the-GDP basis, less wealthy economies suffered even more. Climate crisis related disasters ran up damages equivalent to 7.9% of its gross domestic product for 2020. Cambodia and Laos also lost 5.9% and 5.8% of their GDPs in 2020, respectively.

The State of the Climate in Asia 2020 report, a companion to the State of the Climate in Africa 2020 an released earlier this month, is one of several documents the United Nations’s World Meteorological Organization is releasing in the run-up to the upcoming United Nations COP26 event which begins on October 31.

In other highlights from the Asia report, the WMO noted that:

Glaciers in the High Mountain Asia region of the world continued to see accelerating rates of mass loss from 2019 to 2020. The report explained that the 2020 melting rates in the southeastern Tibetan Plateau and in the Thana region within Bhutan were “well beyond the annual mean loss of global reference glaciers.”

“Glacier retreat is accelerating, and it is projected that glacier mass will decrease by 20 percent to 40 percent by 2050, affecting the lives and livelihoods of about 750 million people in the region,” the document explained. “This has major ramifications for global sea level, regional water cycles and local hazards such as landslides and avalanches.”

Arctic Sea Ice in the region was the second lowest recorded since records began being recorded in 1979.

The oceans surrounding the region were superheated more than ever. In the Arctic, the record-breaking 38° C (100.4° F) temperatures at Verkhoyansk correlated with “intense marine heatwave” conditions in the Laptev Sea which lasted from June to December. The sea surfaces in the Laptev increased at a rate of 0.04° C last year; that amounts to about three times the overall global surface ocean warming rate of 0.015° C.

Rainfall was unusually heavy during the Asian summer monsoon season, with total precipitation running 190% to 200% of normal in many areas, including “much-above-normal country-averaged rainfall” at that time in Pakistan and Sri Lanka. That came along with multiple extreme weather events, including rarely experienced powerful flooding, landslides, and tropical cyclones to the area. Among those was Cyclone Amphan, which roared up the Bay of Bengal in May 2020 to cause mass destruction of property and agricultural lands in northeastern India and Bangladesh. It was the first Super Cyclonic Storm ever to appear in the Bay of Bengal and the most powerful ever, with building-crushing peak wind speeds of 260 km/h (160 mph). It also resulted in damages of over US $13 billion, making it the most expensive cyclone ever recorded in the North Indian Ocean.

Overall floods last year in Asia affected some 50 million people, with over 5,000 losing their lives as a result.

The flooding also triggered the single biggest overall climate migration of people attempting to flee the damage left by the extreme weather in multiple countries.

The report also points out there are many hidden costs of the long-term climate damage. As higher temperatures and humidity bear down in Asia, people who must work outdoors for agricultural and construction reasons are already being forced to cut hours as they come indoors earlier. That too results in lower productivity and addition billions of dollars of GDP lost in the process.

The message to the region and the world from this report should be stark and clear. The climate crisis is with us here and now, not just in the future. And whether nations believe in the seriousness of global heating or plan in any way to adapt to and mitigate for it, they are already paying the price. With money to repair the climate-disaster-related damages which are increasing every year, and in lives forever disrupted or lost.