United Nations Calls 2023 Hottest Year Ever

The Ross Ice Shelf at the Bay of Whales

As of now, the year is not yet over, but several records have already been established: In 2023, the highest temperatures since the beginning of measurements were recorded in many months, making it the hottest summer on record since systematic data collection began. In early November, the EU Copernicus Climate Change Service reported that 2023 is likely to be the warmest year overall since the start of measurements.

The UN World Meteorological Organization (WMO) has now confirmed this. According to the preliminary report the WMO presented on Thursday at the opening of the World Climate Conference in Dubai, the planet has warmed by more than 1.4 degrees Celsius since pre-industrial times.

Little hope for the 1.5-degree target

This is likely to surpass the previous record year, 2016, which was about 1.2 degrees warmer than the pre-industrial average. Researchers anticipate even higher temperatures in 2024 due to the effects of the El Niño weather phenomenon. The UN organization urgently calls for action to curb the catastrophic consequences of climate change and achieve the targeted limit of long-term warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

However, many experts believe that the symbolic 1.5-degree target is increasingly difficult to achieve. It is possible that this limit could be surpassed this year, but that does not necessarily mean a permanent exceedance. Hopes are fading, as noted in a report by 60 experts in February: “Actually, when it comes to climate protection, some things have now been set in motion. But if you look at the development of social processes in detail, keeping global warming under 1.5 degrees still isn’t plausible,” said Anita Engels from the Hamburg Cluster Climate, Climatic Change, and Society (CLICCS).

A recent study also showed that previous estimates of the remaining carbon budget must be drastically revised. In fact, we can emit much fewer greenhouse gases to still achieve the 1.5-degree target, researchers reported in the journal Nature Climate Change. While the IPCC assessment report estimated the remaining carbon budget at 500 gigatons, the research team found only 250 gigatons of additional emissions that are still possible to achieve the 1.5-degree target with a 50 percent probability. At the current emission rates, this budget would be exhausted in six years.

Dramatic indicators

However, rapid and more ambitious action is also necessary to achieve a 2-degree target—every tenth of a degree increases the risk of catastrophic consequences and irreversible developments. This year’s temperature record is part of a series of climate records, said WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas. “Greenhouse gas levels are record high. Global temperatures are record high. Sea level rise is record high. Antarctic sea ice is record low,” said the Finnish meteorologist, who has led the WMO since 2016.

In 2023, Antarctic sea ice reached its lowest winter extent since records began, approximately one million square kilometers less than the previous lowest point. In Canada, wildfires burned a record area, accounting for about five percent of the country’s forest area. According to the report, Swiss glaciers lost about ten percent of their remaining volume in the past two years. Austria’s ice reserves are also rapidly disappearing; meanwhile, temperatures in Europe are rising almost twice as fast as the global average.