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  • Darshan Pareek

2023 hottest year since record-keeping: Study

An image of wildfire

Earth broke the global heat record in 2023 and is approaching the threshold for excessive warming, according to a report from a European agency.

January 2024 is expected to surpass the 1.5-degree threshold for the first time in a 12-month period, according to Copernicus Deputy Director Samantha Burgess. The European climate agency reported that the year's temperature was 1.48 degrees Celsius (2.66 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels, just shy of the 1.5 degrees Celsius limit set by the 2015 Paris climate accord.

"2023 was an exceptional year with climate records tumbling like dominoes. Not only is 2023 the warmest year on record, it is also the first year with all days over 1°C warmer than the pre-industrial period. Temperatures during 2023 likely exceed those of any period in at least the last 100,000 years," Burgess said in a release.  

Copernicus reported that Antarctic sea ice reached record low levels in 2023, breaking eight monthly records for low sea ice. The agency calculated the global average temperature for 2023 at about one-sixth of a degree Celsius (0.3 degrees Fahrenheit) warmer than the previous record in 2016, with a yearly average temperature of 14.98 degrees Celsius (58.96 degrees Fahrenheit).

The primary factor contributing to the record warmth was the increasing concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, mainly from the burning of coal, oil, and natural gas. Other factors, such as El Nino, natural oscillations in various oceans, increased solar activity, and the 2022 undersea volcano eruption, also played a role.

Despite Copernicus records dating back only to 1940, evidence from tree rings and ice cores suggests that the Earth is experiencing its warmest period in over 100,000 years.

Copernicus Director Carlo Buontempo said that our current climate challenges surpass anything experienced in human history, urging continued efforts to mitigate further warming.

The Paris Agreement, a binding international treaty on climate change adopted in 2015, aims to limit global temperature increase to well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, with efforts to restrict it to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Countries submit nationally determined contributions (NDCs) outlining emission reduction and adaptation plans.

To achieve the 1.5 degrees Celsius goal, emissions must peak by 2025 and decline 43 per cent by 2030. The agreement operates on a five-year cycle of increasing climate action. Nations are urged to enhance their 2030 targets by the end of 2023.

On the pledge, Burgess said, "It has to be kept alive because lives are at risk, and choices have to be made."

The record-breaking heat in various regions, including Europe, North America, China, and others, in the previous year led to adverse and sometimes fatal consequences. Scientists attribute the escalating frequency of extreme weather events to a warming climate, leading to the Horn of Africa's devastating drought, deadly floods in Libya, and widespread wildfires in Canada.

The United States experienced a record number of 28 weather disasters causing at least $1 billion in damage in 2023, surpassing the previous record set in 2020. These disasters, ranging from droughts and floods to storms and wildfires, resulted in 492 deaths and nearly $93 billion in damages, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.


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