If raging wildfires in Australia and the melting of Greenland’s ice sheet aren’t enough to convince doubting governments that climate change is real, perhaps blazing heat will do.

Last year was the second-hottest ever recorded, helping make 2014-2019 the hottest five-year period on record, according to the European Union-supported Copernicus Climate Change Service. Europe suffered its warmest year ever by a small margin, the service said.

“These are unquestionably alarming signs,” said Jean-Noël Thépaut, director of Copernicus services, in a statement.

The finding is the latest evidence that emissions of greenhouse gases — especially carbon dioxide — continue to trap heat in the atmosphere and cause temperatures to rise, changing the climate and hurting the environment. While the EU has pledged in its European Green Deal to make the continent carbon neutral by 2050, the collapse of the United Nations’ climate talks last month has led activists to argue that many governments worldwide are still failing to respond with urgency to the growing crisis.

While governments dither, private investors are betting on startups that are racing to commercialize clean energy.

For instance, there are at least 21 companies trying to develop fusion energy, which emits zero carbon. One such company, General Fusion, is backed by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and last month raised $65 million from Singapore’s Temasek Holdings to build its first prototype plant.

“These are unquestionably alarming signs.”

Other startups are working on solving the climate crisis through carbon capture, literally removing the harmful carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. The idea has never really gotten off the ground because the process is complicated and expensive, but Canadian company Carbon Engineering has said it is ready to build a plant in Texas that can remove as much as 1 million metric tons a year of CO2 from the atmosphere.

Not all the climate news this week was bad. Greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. slipped an estimated 2% in 2019 as coal-fired power plants continued to close, according to a report this week from research firm Rhodium Group. 

  • Last year barely missed being the hottest on record, Copernicus said. The global average surface air temperature was 0.04 degrees Celsius lower than 2016, the warmest year ever.
  • Other agencies, including the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in the U.S., are scheduled to release their annual weather analyses later this month, the New York Times said. They are expected to report similar findings.