2023: A year of unprecedented heat, Copernicus Climate Change Service reports

C3S revealed startling global temperature highs, marking a concerning milestone in the ongoing narrative of climate change.

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The year 2023 has been officially declared the hottest year on record by the Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S). In a comprehensive report, C3S, implemented by the European Center for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts, revealed startling global temperature highs, marking a concerning milestone in the ongoing narrative of climate change.

C3S’s 2023 Global Climate Highlights report, based on the ERA5 reanalysis dataset, presented a stark picture: 2023 surpassed 2016, the previous record-holder, by a significant margin. Throughout the year, the world experienced the hottest months ever recorded, with daily global temperature averages briefly exceeding pre-industrial levels by more than 2°C. This unprecedented rise in temperatures, particularly from June onwards, has set a new precedent in climate records.

The surface air temperature anomaly for 2023, relative to the 1991-2020 reference period, was alarming. Data from ERA5 highlighted that the global average temperature in 2023 was 14.98°C, a staggering 0.17°C higher than in 2016. This marked 2023 as 0.60°C warmer than the 1991-2020 average and 1.48°C warmer than the pre-industrial level. The data underscored a concerning trend towards increasingly warmer global temperatures.

Global average sea surface temperatures (SSTs) also reached historic highs in 2023, according to C3S. The transition from La Niña to El Niño conditions played a crucial role in these elevated temperatures. The onset of El Niño in early July significantly impacted SSTs across most ocean basins, particularly the North Atlantic, contributing to a year of record-breaking global SSTs and associated marine heatwaves in various regions.

In Europe, 2023 was the second-warmest year recorded, with average temperatures 1.02°C above the 1991-2020 average. Notably, September 2023 was the warmest September on record. Seasonal analysis showed that the European winter of 2022-2023 was the second-warmest winter on record, while the summer and autumn of 2023 were also among the warmest ever recorded.

The year 2023 was marked by a series of extreme climate events, including widespread heatwaves, floods, droughts, and wildfires. These events were exacerbated by the high global temperatures, leading to a 30% increase in estimated global wildfire carbon emissions compared to 2022. Moreover, both the Antarctic and Arctic regions experienced significant reductions in sea ice extents, with record lows observed in several months.

The atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases, particularly carbon dioxide and methane, reached record levels in 2023. Carbon dioxide concentrations increased to 419 ppm, and methane concentrations rose to 1902 ppb, according to C3S and the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service. These increases are indicative of a continuing trend and highlight the urgent need for global action to address greenhouse gas emissions.

Mauro Facchini, Head of Earth Observation at the Directorate General for Defence Industry and Space, European Commission, expressed concern, stating, “The Copernicus Programme is one of the best tools available to guide our climate actions and accelerate the green transition.” Samantha Burgess, Deputy Director of C3S, commented, “2023 was an exceptional year with climate records tumbling like dominoes.” Carlo Buontempo, Director of C3S, added, “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 civilization developed.”

The findings of the C3S report have implications for the global response to climate change and future temperature projections. With 2023 temperatures nearing the 1.5°C limit set by the Paris Agreement, there is a heightened sense of urgency for worldwide efforts to reduce fossil fuel emissions and mitigate further temperature increases. Experts predict that without significant action, future years could see even higher temperatures, amplifying the risks and impacts of global warming.

Carlo Buontempo concluded, “If we want to successfully manage our climate risk portfolio, we need to urgently decarbonize our economy whilst using climate data and knowledge to prepare for the future.”

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Alexandra Jacobo is a dedicated progressive writer, activist, and mother with a deep-rooted passion for social justice and political engagement. Her journey into political activism began in 2011 at Zuccotti Park, where she supported the Occupy movement by distributing blankets to occupiers, marking the start of her earnest commitment to progressive causes. Driven by a desire to educate and inspire, Alexandra focuses her writing on a range of progressive issues, aiming to foster positive change both domestically and internationally. Her work is characterized by a strong commitment to community empowerment and a belief in the power of informed public action. As a mother, Alexandra brings a unique and personal perspective to her activism, understanding the importance of shaping a better world for future generations. Her writing not only highlights the challenges we face but also champions the potential for collective action to create a more equitable and sustainable world.

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