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2023 Hottest year on record with devastating climate impact

Hottest year on record indicators

The United Nations’ weather agency has issued a stark warning, stating that the world is perilously close to breaching the 1.5°C (2.7°F) global heating limit, with 2023 declared as the hottest year on record by a significant margin. Throughout 2023, key climate indicators displayed alarming shifts, serving as potent reminders of the escalating climate crisis. WMO’s report highlighted several critical markers of climate change, including rising temperatures, heightened greenhouse gas concentrations, and the relentless retreat of sea ice and glaciers. Andrea Celeste Saulo, the WMO’s secretary-general, emphasized the urgency of the situation by declaring a “red alert” to the world.

2015 Paris Agreement

The report highlighted extreme weather events across every inhabited continent, with some events being exacerbated by climate change, as confirmed by rapid attribution studies. Temperatures near the Earth’s surface in 2023 were 1.45°C higher than those in the late 1800s, marking a period when industrial activities and extensive use of coal, oil, and gas began altering the natural balance. While there remains a margin of error of 0.12°C in temperature estimates, it’s plausible that the Earth may have already exceeded the 1.5°C threshold. However, scientists caution against interpreting a single year’s spike as a breach of the commitments made in the 2015 Paris Agreement. The Agreement measures global heating using a 30-year average, not a single year’s anomaly. Regardless, such extremes not only pose immediate threats to human health and well-being but also exacerbate the risk of wildfires, droughts, and other climate-related disasters.

Friederike Otto, a climate scientist at Imperial College London, warned of the dire consequences of continued fossil fuel burning, emphasizing that it will lead to increased danger, unpredictability, and economic burdens for billions worldwide. There’s a divide among climate scientists regarding whether the extreme temperatures witnessed at the beginning of 2024 represent an unexpected acceleration of the climate crisis. While some indicators suggest unexpected warmth, others caution against hasty conclusions. The report however, highlighted that greenhouse gas concentrations continued their upward trajectory, perpetuating the intensification of the greenhouse effect and contributing to global warming. This continual rise in emissions underscores the pressing need for concerted international efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions and transition towards cleaner, renewable energy sources. Despite the grim outlook, the report noted a “glimmer of hope” in the expansion of renewable energy. The significant increase in renewable capacity added in 2023, almost 50% higher than the previous year, indicates progress toward cleaner energy sources.

Extreme weather events

Karsten Haustein, a climate scientist at the University of Leipzig, emphasized the unequal burden of climate change, with marginalized regions bearing the brunt of its impacts. The severity of climate impacts is intensifying, and extreme weather events exacerbated by climate change have left millions hungry and displaced from their homes. Whilst Haustein acknowledges the argument for technology’s position in mitigating impact, he criticized its stance as a sole solution, stressing the urgent need for global solidarity and action.

These findings serve as a clarion call for urgent action to mitigate the impacts of climate change and build resilience to its effects. The red alert serves as a wake-up call, signalling the urgent need for decisive action to mitigate climate change and its devastating consequences. It emphasizes the importance of international cooperation and coordinated efforts to address the root causes of climate change and safeguard the planet for future generations.

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