2023 is Officially the Hottest Year on Record in the Planet

The year 2023 has been confirmed as the warmest on record in the planet , with human-caused climate change and the natural El Niño weather event contributing to this unprecedented heat.

According to the EU’s climate service, last year experienced a temperature increase of 1.48C compared to the long-term average prior to significant fossil fuel consumption.

There has been a consistent trend of global air temperature reaching new highs for the time of year, as observed by BBC analysis.

Sea surface temperatures have reached record-breaking levels.

Last week, the Met Office announced that the UK had a remarkably warm year in 2023, ranking as the second warmest on record.

These global records are inching the world closer to surpassing important international climate targets.

“It was truly remarkable how [2023] shattered previous records,” remarks Andrew Dessler, a professor of atmospheric science at Texas A&M University.

The margin of some of these records, as shown on the chart below, is truly remarkable, according to Prof Dessler. It is worth noting that these records represent global averages.

An extraordinary surge of warmth

It’s widely acknowledged that the global temperature has significantly increased over the past century due to the continuous release of substantial quantities of greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide, by human activities.

However, it was not anticipated by any major science body that 2023 would become the hottest year on record, due to the intricate nature of the Earth’s climate.

Throughout the initial months of the year, there were only a few instances where air temperature records were surpassed.

However, the world experienced an extraordinary and consistent series of daily achievements in the latter part of 2023.

Take a glance at the calendar chart below, where each block represents a day in 2023. Significant milestones were achieved on the days marked with the deepest hue. Starting in June, we can expect to see a significant increase in the number of record-breaking days.

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More than 200 days saw a new daily global temperature record for the time of year, according to BBC analysis of Copernicus Climate Change Service data.

The recent increase in temperature can be attributed to the sudden shift to El Niño conditions, which has happened alongside ongoing human-caused warming.

El Niño is a natural occurrence in which warmer surface waters in the East Pacific Ocean release extra heat into the atmosphere.

However, air temperatures have experienced an unexpected early boost during this phase of El Niño. The anticipated full effects were not predicted to occur until early 2024, once El Niño had reached its maximum strength.

Many scientists are uncertain about the current state of the climate.

“That brings up a multitude of intriguing inquiries about the reasons behind the unusual warmth in 2023,” remarks Zeke Hausfather, a climate scientist at Berkeley Earth, a prominent science organisation in the US.

Global impact reverberates across the globe

The widespread impact of the 2023 warmth has been quite remarkable.

According to the map below, a significant portion of the world experienced higher temperatures compared to the period between 1991 and 2020. This time frame was already nearly 0.9C warmer than the pre-industrial era before the widespread use of fossil fuels.

The unprecedented global warmth has exacerbated numerous extreme weather events across various regions in 2023. These events include scorching heatwaves and devastating wildfires in Canada and the US, as well as prolonged drought followed by destructive flooding in certain areas of east Africa.

Several events took place on larger scales than what has been observed recently, or at unexpected times of the year.

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“These are more than just numbers,” states Prof Petteri Taalas, the Secretary General of the World Meteorological Organisation from 2016 to 2023.

“The devastating impact of severe weather is wreaking havoc on communities and individuals every single day.”

The wildfire season in Canada was by far the worst ever

The air’s temperature is just one indicator of the planet’s quickly shifting climate. Moreover in 2023:

  • Sea ice in the Arctic was also below average, and Antarctic sea ice reached a “mind-blowing” low.
  • Sea levels have risen as a result of an intense melt season that affected glaciers in western North America and the European Alps.
  • The sea surface temperature reached its highest point ever recorded due to several maritime heatwaves, one of which was in the North Atlantic.

Interestingly, according to BBC analysis of Copernicus data, the world’s ocean surface has been experiencing an uninterrupted series of record-breaking days since 4 May. The chart below clearly shows that numerous days have witnessed significant record-breaking achievements.

A cautionary message for the future

According to Dr. Hausfather, there is a possibility that the year 2024 might be warmer than 2023. This is due to the release of some of the record ocean surface heat into the atmosphere. However, the unpredictable nature of the current El Niño makes it difficult to make a definitive statement.

According to the UK Met Office, there is a possibility that 2024 could exceed the significant 1.5C warming threshold throughout the entire calendar year, which would be a first.

Almost 200 countries reached an agreement in Paris in 2015 to make efforts in order to restrict warming to this level, in order to prevent the most severe consequences of global warming.

It pertains to long-term averages spanning 20 or 30 years, therefore a breach lasting a year in 2024 would not indicate a violation of the Paris agreement.

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However, it is worth noting the alarming trend that each successive year brings us closer to surpassing the 1.5C threshold in the long run.

Human activities are responsible for the ongoing global warming trend, despite the influence of natural factors like El Niño that can temporarily impact temperatures. The temperatures observed in 2023 are a clear indication that natural causes alone cannot account for such extreme conditions.

Take a look at the chart below. In the past, 1998 and 2016 stood out as exceptional years, thanks to the significant warming caused by the powerful El Niño phenomenon. However, the 2023 records stand out prominently, highlighted in the deepest shades of red.

“2023 was a remarkable year, with climate records falling one after another,” states Dr Samantha Burgess, Deputy Director of the Copernicus Climate Change Service.

This recent warning comes shortly after the COP28 climate summit, where countries reached a consensus for the first time on addressing the primary factor behind increasing temperatures – fossil fuels.

Although the terms of the agreement may not have satisfied everyone’s expectations, there is optimism that it will contribute to the ongoing advancements in renewable power and electric vehicles.

According to researchers, despite the likelihood of missing the 1.5C target, taking action can still have a significant impact in mitigating the effects of climate change.

“Even if we reach 1.6C instead, it will be a significant improvement compared to surrendering and approaching 3C, which is the outcome of current policies,” states Dr. Friederike Otto, a respected climate science lecturer at Imperial College London.

“Even the smallest change in temperature can have a significant impact.”

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