As the world bid farewell to October, it unknowingly marked the end of the hottest 12-month span in recorded history. This period, stretching from November 2022 to October 2023, has set a new and alarming record, with Earth’s temperature soaring 1.3 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels. Climate Central, a nonprofit organization dedicated to analyzing climate data, confirms that our planet is inching dangerously close to the critical 1.5 degrees Celsius threshold, a limit central to the Paris climate accord’s goals.
This temperature surge is not an isolated phenomenon but a clear indicator of the rapid acceleration of climate change due to carbon pollution. It’s a wake-up call that arrives just as international negotiators are preparing to discuss the pressing issue of global warming at the upcoming Paris climate accord meeting.
Andrew Pershing, Climate Central’s Vice President for Science, expressed grave concern at a recent press briefing. “We’re experiencing temperatures that our planet hasn’t felt in approximately 125,000 years,” he stated, emphasizing the unprecedented nature of this climatic shift. “This is not normal. It’s a direct consequence of excessive carbon dioxide in our atmosphere.”
2023 has been a year of climatic extremes. July was the hottest month ever recorded, and September emerged as the most anomalously hot month, with temperatures significantly higher than long-term averages. Climate scientist Zeke Hausfather described this September’s heat as “absolutely gobsmackingly bananas” in a post on the former social media platform, Twitter.
Pershing highlighted that while global mean temperature is a metric, the real impact of climate change is felt in our daily weather. Climate Central’s researchers have quantified this impact, revealing that 5.8 billion people experienced at least 30 days of above-average temperatures due to climate change. This phenomenon touched lives across continents, from Japan to Brazil, affecting nearly every individual in regions like the Caribbean and Central America.
The analysis also showed that about 500 million people in 200 major cities endured extreme heat. Cities like Houston, New Orleans, Jakarta, and Tangerang witnessed consecutive days of heat that ranked in the highest 1 percent of their historical temperatures.
Attribution studies further demonstrate the role of climate change in exacerbating heatwaves in the U.S. Southwest, Europe, and unusual winter temperatures in South America. These events would have been virtually impossible without climate change, now a hundred times more likely due to its influence.
Extreme heat poses severe threats to human health, especially among vulnerable groups like the elderly, children, and low-income communities lacking air conditioning. Developed countries have not been spared, with Europe experiencing stretched hospital capacities reminiscent of the COVID-era.
While a fraction of this year’s heat can be attributed to a mild El Niño event, the majority is unequivocally linked to climate change. Predictions suggest that 2023 could surpass 2016 as the hottest calendar year on record, with 2024 expected to be equally scorching or worse.
As the world teeters on the brink of surpassing the 1.5-degree Celsius mark, climate scientists like Friederike Otto from Imperial College London’s Grantham Institute emphasize that achieving the Paris accord goal is still physically possible. The biggest hurdle, according to Otto, is political will.
The upcoming COP28 conference in Dubai presents a critical opportunity for global leaders to commit to phasing out fossil fuels, a necessary step to curtail rising temperatures and their accelerating impacts.
Climate Central’s report starkly illustrates that our planet is undergoing a rapid and unprecedented climatic transformation. The message is clear: immediate and decisive action is required to rein in emissions and prevent a future where the record-breaking temperatures of today become the norm of tomorrow.