An Alarming Number Of Climate Change Records Were Smashed In 2023

The seemingly inevitable has been confirmed: 2023 was the hottest year on record by a massive margin. Oh, but that’s not all – last year also witnessed 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 latest World Meteorological Organization (WMO) State of Global Climate report that found 2023’s global average near-surface temperatures were 1.45°C (2.61°F) above the pre-industrial levels – a shocking indication of how quickly Earth’s climate has changed in recent history.

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

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

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

Along with record temperatures, 2023 saw the highest recorded concentrations of the three main greenhouse gases: carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide. Levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, for instance, were 50 percent higher than in the pre-industrial era.

Annual global mean temperature anomalies (relative to 1850–1900) from 1850 to 2023 using data from six data sets
Image credit: WMO

Earth’s oceans and cryospheres also took a battering in 2023. Ocean heat content reached its highest levels, plus there were more frequent and intense marine heat waves. In July 2023, for instance, the sea off the coast of Florida reached a potentially record-breaking 38.3°C (101°F), which is about the same as a hot tub. 

Simultaneously, the global sea levels reached a record high since 1993 when satellites started documenting the phenomenon, caused by thermal expansion of ocean water as well as the melting of glaciers and ice sheets. 

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

The world also saw an uptick in extreme weather and climate events, including floods, tropical cyclones, extreme heatwaves and drought, and associated wildfires. An increase in these forms of extreme weather and climate events was seen on all inhabited continents during 2023, bringing a notable rise in human suffering due to food insecurity and displacement. 

The WMO wanted to offer a “glimmer of hope” by showing that renewable energy generation had surged in 2023. However, even if this momentum keeps going, the planet is not out of the woods yet. 

“This latest report shows – yet again – how profoundly human actions are reshaping the planet. Climate heating has contributed to a truly remarkable year the world over in which 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 be merely a taste of what is to come without concerted, ambitious and courageous action on climate change,” added Dr Gilbert.

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