European scientists say 2023 is on track to be the hottest year on record after temperatures soared across the planet in October.
The Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S), the EU’s climate monitor, said on Wednesday that October was 0.4 degrees Celsius (0.7 degrees Fahrenheit) hotter than the previous record for the month, set in 2019.
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“When we combine our data with the IPCC [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change], then we can say that this is the warmest year for the last 125,000 years,” C3S’s Deputy Director Samantha Burgess said. Copernicus’s dataset goes back to 1940.
No corner of the planet has been spared: A study published in September, which also beat previous records, found that 2022 brought the most intense heatwave on record to Antarctica, the world’s coldest region.
In August and September during the southern hemisphere’s winter and spring, South American countries such as Brazil, Argentina, Bolivia and Paraguay struggled to cope with boiling temperatures of more than 40C (104F), in a heatwave that scientists said was made 100 times more likely by climate change.
“The amount that we’re smashing records by is shocking,” Burgess said.
Extreme heat can have deadly impacts, sapping the body of energy and causing dehydration in the short term and increasing the risk of health problems such as cardiovascular and respiratory disease.
People from poorer segments of society, especially those who engage in manual labour or work outside, are especially at risk.
“Heat kills, particularly in spring before people are acclimatised to it. Temperatures above 40C [104F] in early spring are incredibly extreme,” Julie Arrighi, director at the nonprofit Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre, said at the time of the heatwave in South America.
Conditions created by climate change have also contributed to a record wildfire season in Canada in 2023, which displaced thousands of people and burned more than 18.4 million hectares (45,467,390 acres) of land.
This year, factors driven by climate change have combined with those produced by the El Nino climate pattern, during which warmer surface waters in the eastern Pacific Ocean drive extreme weather around the world. The current hottest year on record is 2016 – another El Nino year.
The ongoing El Nino weather pattern is set to last until at least April, the World Meteorological Organization said on Wednesday.
“This is a clear sign that we are going into a climate regime that will have more impact on more people,” said Peter Schlosser, vice president and vice provost of the Global Futures Laboratory at Arizona State University. He is not associated with Copernicus.
“We better take this warning that we actually should have taken 50 years ago or more and draw the right conclusions.”
The European scientists’ findings were released three weeks before governments meet in Dubai for UN climate negotiations, known as COP28, where nearly 200 countries will negotiate what action to take on climate change.
A key issue at COP28 will be whether governments agree for the first time to phase out the burning of carbon dioxide-emitting fossil fuels.