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2023 marks hottest year on record, puts 1.5°C limit on edge

The global average temperature in 2023 soared 1.48 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial times.

2023 marks hottest year on record, puts 1.5°C limit on edge
[Source photo: Chetan Jha/Press Insider]

Global temperatures reached exceptionally high levels in 2023 with the year becoming the warmest on record, edging precariously close to a critical climate tipping point, a report said. 

According to data from EU climate monitors, the global average temperature in 2023 soared 1.48 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial times, breathing down the neck of the 1.5°C limit set in the landmark 2015 Paris Agreement.

Data from the Copernicus Climate Change Service confirms 2023 as the hottest year on record, with a global average temperature of 14.98°Ca scorching 0.60°C above the 1991-2020 average and surpassing the previous record holder, 2016, by 0.17°C.

Worryingly, 2024 seems to be picking up where 2023 left off, the report warned. 

The report ominously predicts that “a 12-month period ending in January or February 2024 will exceed 1.5°C above the pre-industrial level,” potentially marking the first time we cross this critical threshold.

The Paris Agreement, a pact adopted by 196 nations, desperately aims to keep global warming “well below 2°C” and ideally “limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C.” 

Every fraction of a degree matters, and this record-breaking heat is no mere statistic.

Last year, the planet was overcome with heat waves that wreaked havoc across South Asia, Europe, North America, and beyond. Millions suffered under the relentless sun, with many losing their lives to the scorching temperatures.

The data paints a terrifying picture: every month from June to December 2023 surpassed the record of any previous year. 

July and August claimed the titles of hottest months ever recorded. Even the normally temperate June-August period recorded the planet’s hottest boreal summer on record.

September took the heatwave to a whole new level.  Temperatures were 0.93°C higher than the 1991-2020 average—the highest monthly deviation ever recorded. 

October, November, and December, though slightly less feverish, joined the record ranks, tying for second hottest months with a collective 0.85°C temperature deviation above the average.

December 2023 was the warmest December on record globally, with an average temperature of 13.51°C, 0.85°C above the 1991-2020 average, and 1.78°C above the 1850-1900 level for the month, the report noted. 

More than half the days in 2023 were exceptionally warm, with temperatures exceeding the critical 1.5°C threshold compared to the 1850-1900 level and for the first time ever, two days in November scorched the planet with temperatures more than 2°C above the pre-industrial baseline.

The consequences of crossing these thresholds are far-reaching and grave. 

The heat is just one symptom of a larger illness. Water emerged as a potent force in 2023, manifesting in both swift and gradual deluges. Flash floods triggered by intense rainfall pummeled various regions, while atmospheric rivers, acting as moisture conduits, unleashed prolonged downpours. California grappled with two such torrents, while Chile, Asia, and Africa faced the wrath of cyclones and monsoons.

In some cases, like the Horn of Africa, pre-existing drought conditions exacerbated the impact of flooding, highlighting the complex interplay between different weather events.

Other regions confronted crippling dry spells. North America’s agricultural heartland in Mexico, along with vast stretches of the Amazon basin, the Pantanal wetlands, and parts of Argentina and Uruguay, succumbed to relentless drought. Africa’s western rim experienced similar parched conditions, raising concerns about food security and agricultural livelihoods.

The confluence of heat and parched lands fueled widespread wildfires throughout the year. Southern Europe, Canada’s Northwest Territories (contributing significantly to global carbon emissions), South America, Australia, and Hawaii grappled with devastating blazes.

The rising global temperature also led to record low levels of Antarctic sea ice. It reached record low extents for the corresponding time of the year in eight months, and both the daily and monthly extents reached all-time minima in February 2023, the report highlighted. 

“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,” said Samantha Burgess, deputy director of the Copernicus Climate Change Service.

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