2023 was a record hot year, scientists expect more of the same in 2024

Some leading scientists have been shocked at the latest climate change data which show 2023 was the warmest year on record, and probably the hottest in the past 100,000 years.

The end of the year resulted in a burst of data from various climate research bodies. Overnight the EU’s Copernicus Programme that 2023 was, on average, 1.48°C above pre-industrial levels.

It anticipates that the 12-month average temperature will exceed 1.5°C for the first time in January or February. That threshold is the lower limit ambitiously set in the Paris climate agreement.

The US-based NASA and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) are due to announce their assessments on 2023 global temperatures on Friday. Their findings are expected to mirror those of Copernicus.

Among the records to tumble in 2023, Copernicus also found:

  • The global average temperature was for the first time 1°C above pre-industrial temperatures every day of the year.
  • July and August 2023, as recorded at the time, were the hottest months on record.
  • Antarctic ice was at record lowest levels for two-thirds of the year and an all-time low in February.
  • Arctic sea ice reached its sixth-lowest maximum extent.

“The extremes we have observed over the last few months provide a dramatic testimony of how far we now are from the climate in which our civilisation developed,” said Carlo Buontempo, director of the Copernicus Climate Change Service.

“This has profound consequences for the Paris Agreement and all human endeavours. If we want to successfully manage our climate risk portfolio, we need to urgently decarbonise our economy whilst using climate data and knowledge to prepare for the future.”

Extreme events characterised 2023 and other research reports continue to be issued showing the deadly extent of climate shifts.

Major drought events in the Americas, Africa and the Mediterranean were capped by deadly wildfire seasons on those continents.

On the flip side, major rainfall and flooding have battered vast regions of the world.

While it has long been predicted by major climate observers that these convergences would begin amid warmer global temperatures, some expert observers were expecting it to happen later than 2023.

Albert Van Dijk is a professor of water science and management at the Australian National University, and chair of the Global Water Monitor Consortium. In advance of GWMC’s 2023 annual report release today, he told Cosmos the sudden rise of major environmental hazards is a cause for concern.

“We’re in a lot of trouble,” Van Dijk says. 

“We’ve really got to get serious about fixing this problem. This is not something that is going to happen when we reach 1.5 degrees, or in 30 years’ time or by 2040 – it’s already happening now.

“The droughts in places like Canada and the Amazon those are two of tipping points that people talk about will happen in the future once we reach 2.5 degrees. I think it’s important to realise they’re already starting to happen.”

Van Dijk’s report highlights that 77 countries experienced record annual average temperatures in 2023, with declines in air humidity driving trends towards more extreme dry conditions.

But scientists like him are expecting 2024 to be business as usual, for the most part, when it comes to global warming.

As reported in December, global carbon emissions were at another record high in 2023, with little left in the tank before the world exceeded thresholds consistent with the Paris Climate Agreement. While policymakers – particularly in developed nations – tout their climate investment credentials, the weaning off of major fuel sources contributing to those records remains glacial.

Drought impacts on ecosystems are also a major cause for concern, as recently highlighted by a global research project led by Colorado State University.

Those droughts risk pushing regions towards other hazards – like wildfires – which in turn release trapped carbon, exacerbating planet warming.

“Forests in the Amazon, Canada and elsewhere in Australia have been soaking up a lot of the greenhouse gases we’ve been emitting,” says Van Dijk.

“If they start releasing them, then they really could see […] some major trouble.”

Further dissection of the record-breaking 2023 is expected in the coming weeks, but most reports will undoubtedly highlight the now-arriving consequences of unabated carbon emissions.

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