Climate Change

Blistering 2020 was France's hottest year ever, say climate experts

2020 is France's hottest year on record according to experts.
2020 is France's hottest year on record according to experts. AFP/File

Scientists and weather experts agree that 2020 is France’s hottest year on record. The increased number of violent storms, heatwaves and drought all point to the undeniable fact that climate change is taking place at a frightening speed.


"The cool down experienced at the end of this year will not change anything. With an average of 14 degrees Celcius, 2020 is the hottest year on record, ahead of 2018, which registered 13.9°C," wrote Météo France (National weather board) on Twitter.

Over the past 120 years, since national averages have been recorded, nine of the 10 hottest years were in the 21st century, and seven of those in the last decade.

The World Meteorological Organisation agrees that 2020 will be in the top three hottest years on record globally.

"What we are experiencing today is what we climate scientists had already envisaged," explains Jean Jouzel, from the French Academy of Sciences and vice-president of the group of intergovernmental experts surveying the evolution of the climate.

"The problem when we talk about the average temperature in 2020 is that those record-breaking peak temperatures are increasing two or three times as fast as the average temperatures," Jouzel told France Info on Wednesday. 

"That’s the reason why nearly every year, the records are being broken ... I never would have imagined in my first conferences talking about temperatures above 45°C in France. And yet, the record is now 46°C."

Global warming is not just about heat. It’s about increasingly violent weather patterns that see extreme temperatures at both ends of the spectrum.

A year of chaotic weather

2020 in France began with series of 12 storms between 28 January and 5 March. Storm Ciara on 10 February was described as one of the 25 worst storms in the past 40 years in France.

The summer was particularly dry, and the lack of rainfall provoked a severe agricultural drought, and two heatwaves.

Although its intensity was slightly less than in 2019, the second heatwave in August was a record in terms of length: 8 days, with temperatures remaining high during the evenings, offering no respite.

The autumn saw exceptional rainfall in the south-east of the country, and historic violent storms, in particular Storm Alex, which lead to massive damage in the Alpes-Maritimes region in October.

A flooded house in Breil-sur-Roya, in the southeastern French region of Alpes Maritimes, badly hit by storm Alex, October 2020.
A flooded house in Breil-sur-Roya, in the southeastern French region of Alpes Maritimes, badly hit by storm Alex, October 2020. RFI/Alexis Bédu

Up to 500mm of rain was recorded in 24 hours, causing significant damage particularly in the Roya Valley, where roads were swept away.

In December, it was Storm Bella's chance to make an impact, bringing sustained violent winds to much of France.

"This is one more reason to act with ambitious determination in favour of the climate," wrote Greenpeace France director Jean-François Julliard on Twitter.

The environmental group has been one of many NGOs critical of the French government for not holding up its side of the bargain in terms of respecting the Paris climate accord.

The deal, signed at the Cop21 summit in 2015 outlined a promise to cap global warming to "well below" 2°C, and if possible to 1.5°C, compared to pre-industrial standards. Five years on, the signatories are struggling to meet this target.  

"It would’ve been much better had people listened to us 30 years ago, which was nearly the case at the Kyoto climate summit of 1992," Jean Jouzel said.

"Everyone agreed on the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but the fact is, they have only continued to increase."

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