2023 shatters record for world’s warmest year: EU climate agency

Copernicus Climate Change Service says 2023 ‘very likely’ the warmest year in the past 100,000 years.

Flames and smoke rise from a line of trees as a wildfire burns at the Dadia National Park in the region of Evros, Greece.
Smoke rises from a line of trees as a wildfire burns at the Dadia National Park in the Evros region in northeastern Greece on September 1, 2023 [File: Alexandros Avramidis/Reuters]

Last year was the planet’s hottest on record by a significant margin and likely the world’s warmest in the past 100,000 years, the European Union’s climate agency says.

Scientists had widely expected the milestone after climate records were repeatedly broken. Since June, every month has been the world’s hottest on record compared with the corresponding month in previous years.

“This has been a very exceptional year climate-wise, … in a league of its own, even when compared to other very warm years,” the director of the Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S), Carlo Buontempo, said on Tuesday.

C3S confirmed 2023 as the hottest year among global temperature records going back to 1850. When checked against palaeoclimatic data records from sources such as tree rings and air bubbles in glaciers, Buontempo said, it was “very likely” the warmest year in the past 100,000 years.

On average in 2023, the planet was 1.48 degrees Celsius (2.66 degrees Fahrenheit) warmer than in the 1850-1900 pre-industrial period, after which humans began burning fossil fuels on an industrial scale, pumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

Countries agreed in the 2015 Paris Agreement to try to prevent global warming from surpassing 1.5C (2.7F) to avoid its most severe consequences.

The world has not breached that target – which refers to an average global temperature of 1.5C over decades – but C3S said temperatures had exceeded that level on nearly half of the days of 2023, setting “a dire precedent”.

This month is on track to be so warm that for the first time a 12-month period will exceed the 1.5-degree threshold, C3S Deputy Director Samantha Burgess said.

The 1.5-degree goal “has to be [kept] alive because lives are at risk and choices have to be made,” Burgess added. “And these choices don’t impact you and I, but they impact our children and our grandchildren.”

Record emissions

Despite the proliferation of climate targets by governments and companies, carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions remain stubbornly high. The world’s CO2 emissions from burning coal, oil and gas hit record levels in 2023.

Last year, the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere rose to the highest level recorded at 419 parts per million, C3S said.

It was also the first year in which every day was more than 1C (1.8F) hotter than pre-industrial times. For the first time, two days – both of them in November – were 2C (3.6F) warmer than in the pre-industrial period, C3S said.

Last year was 0.17C (0.31F) hotter than 2016, the previous hottest year – smashing the record by a “remarkable” margin, Buontempo said.

Alongside human-caused climate change, 2023 temperatures were boosted by El Nino, a weather phenomenon that warms the surface waters in the eastern Pacific Ocean and contributes to higher global temperatures.

Each fraction of temperature increase exacerbates extreme and destructive weather disasters.

In 2023, the hotter planet aggravated deadly heatwaves from China to Europe, extreme rain that caused floods killing thousands of people in Libya and Canada’s worst wildfire season on record.

Source: News Agencies