An alarming number of climate change records were broken in 2023

The seemingly inevitable has been confirmed: 2023 was the hottest year on record by a huge margin. Oh, but that’s not all: last year also saw record-breaking levels of greenhouse gas concentrations, sea level rise, ocean heat and acidification, Antarctic sea ice cover, surface temperatures and glacier retreat.

The findings come from the World Meteorological Organization’s (WMO) latest State of Global Climate report, which found that global average surface temperatures in 2023 will be 1.45 °C (2.61 °F) above pre- industrial level – a shocking indication of how quickly the Earth’s climate is changing. has changed in recent history.

“Never have we been so close – albeit currently on a temporary basis – to the 1.5°C lower limit of the Paris Climate Agreement,” Celeste Saulo, Secretary General of the WMO, said in a statement.

“The WMO community is sounding the Red Alert to the world,” Saulo said. “Climate change is about much more than just temperatures. What we have seen in 2023, especially with unprecedented ocean warmth, glacier retreat and Antarctic sea ice loss, is of particular concern.”

The latest WMO report confirms another report published in January 2023 by the Copernicus Climate Change Service, which also concluded that last year was the hottest year on record.

In addition to record temperatures, 2023 saw the highest recorded concentrations of the three main greenhouse gases: carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide. For example, carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere were 50 percent higher than in pre-industrial times.

Annual global mean temperature anomalies (relative to 1850–1900) from 1850 to 2023 using data from six datasets

Annual global mean temperature anomalies (relative to 1850–1900) from 1850 to 2023 using data from six datasets

Image credit: WMO

Earth’s oceans and cryosphere also took serious hits in 2023. The heat content of the oceans reached its highest levels, and there were more frequent and intense heat waves at sea. For example, in July 2023, the sea off the coast of Florida reached a potentially record high temperature of 38.3°C (101°F), which is about the same as a hot tub.

At the same time, global sea levels reached record highs since 1993, when satellites began documenting the phenomenon caused by the thermal expansion of ocean waters and the melting of glaciers and ice caps.

The extent of Antarctic sea ice was by far the lowest ever recorded, while on the other side of the planet the extent of Arctic sea ice was well below normal. Earth’s two major ice sheets, the Greenland Ice Sheet and the Antarctic Ice Sheet, also experienced worryingly high levels of melting.

The world also saw an increase in extreme weather and climate events, including floods, tropical cyclones, extreme heat waves and droughts, and associated forest fires. In 2023, an increase in these forms of extreme weather and climate events was observed on all inhabited continents, leading to a notable increase in human suffering due to food insecurity and displacement.

The WMO wanted to offer a ‘ray of hope’ by showing that renewable energy generation would have boomed by 2023. But even if this momentum continues, the planet isn’t out of the woods yet.

“This latest report shows – once again – how profoundly human actions are reshaping the planet. Climate warming has contributed to a truly remarkable year around the world as records tumbled like dominoes,” Dr Ella Gilbert, climate scientist at the British Antarctic Survey, said in a statement to the Science Media Centre.

“We are transforming our climate with our actions – but 2023 will only be a taste of what is to come without coordinated, ambitious and courageous action on climate change,” added Dr. Gilbert added.

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