Wednesday

28th Feb 2024

2023 marked by extreme weather events and record heat

  • Emissions linked to wildfires surged by 30 percent in 2023, compared to the previous year, mainly driven by the extensive wildfires in Canada (Photo: Sukhdev Singh)
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Last year saw again a large number of extreme weather events and record global temperatures — setting a clear warning for what is yet to come.

Exceptionally high temperatures from the summer onwards led 2023 to break all records since the collection of data, going back to 1850.

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  • Daily global temperature increase above pre-industrial levels for 2023 (Photo: C3S/ECMWF)

Previously, 2016 had been the warmest year on record.

2023 was the warmest year on record, and also marked the first time that each day was at least 1 degree above pre-industrial levels (1850-1900), with half of those days exceeding 1.5 degrees.

On average, last year was more than 1.4 degrees warmer than the pre-industrial level, according to new figures published by European space agency Copernicus on Tuesday (9 January).

But global temperatures are expected to surpass the 1.5 degree threshold in early 2024.

While experts argue that this doesn't mean that the planet has surpassed the 1.5 degrees limit, internationally agreed as a safe boundary under the 2015 Paris Agreement, it does set a precedent.

Limits set under the Paris Agreement refer to periods of at least 20 years where this average temperature is exceeded.

Nevertheless, the record concentrations of carbon dioxide and methane in 2023 show the failure of global leaders, especially wealthy nations, to reduce emissions to limit global temperatures.

"This has profound consequences for the Paris Agreement and all human endeavours," said Carlo Buontempo, the director of Copernicus.

"If we want to successfully manage our climate risk portfolio, we need to urgently decarbonise our economy," he added.

"Temperatures during 2023 likely exceed those of any period in at least the last 100,000 years," said Copernicus deputy director Samantha Burgess.

Last year also saw more frequent and extreme weather events such as heatwaves, floods, droughts and wildfires.

Emissions linked to wildfires surged by 30 percent in 2023, compared to the previous year, mainly driven by the extensive wildfires in Canada.

And experts pointed out the high temperatures of the oceans as a matter of increasing concern.

Overall, greenhouse gas concentrations are considered the main driver of the unprecedented high surface temperatures in the ocean, but the climate switch in the tropical Pacific between cooler (La Niña) and warmer (El Niño) conditions than usual also affected ocean temperatures last year.

Simultaneously, experts said that marine heatwaves became more frequent in 2023 than in the years before — particularly affecting the Mediterranean, the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean, the Indian Ocean and the North Pacific, and much of the North Atlantic.

For Europe, 2023 was the second-warmest year on record as 2020 saw slightly higher temperatures.

Europe experienced temperatures of one degree above the 1991-2020 average throughout last year and in line with global trends.

The EU has committed to reducing emissions by 55 percent (compared to pre-industrial levels) in just six years. For that, it has put forward a wide package of regulations, with stricter rules targeting polluting industries, that now will have to be implemented and enforced without delay.

"The challenge is clear," said EU commission official Mauro Facchini.

The upcoming EU elections and the future composition of the European Parliament will be vital to shaping environmental policy in the 27-nations bloc as well as climate diplomacy elsewhere.

Analysis

Europe's summer wildfires: the lessons to be learnt

This summer's wildfires have dominated headlines, featuring pictures of helicopters flying overhead and tourists fleeing — but what lessons have experts drawn? They are calling for the need to manage forests and vegetation, and create more forest firebreaks.

Angry farmers block Brussels again, urge fix to 'unfair' prices

Following weeks of demonstrations across Europe, farmers returned to Brussels to protest over unfair competition in prices, as EU agriculture ministers met just a few metres away to discuss a response. The police used water cannon and tear gas.

Angry farmers block Brussels again, urge fix to 'unfair' prices

Following weeks of demonstrations across Europe, farmers returned to Brussels to protest over unfair competition in prices, as EU agriculture ministers met just a few metres away to discuss a response. The police used water cannon and tear gas.

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