The European Union climate monitor has revealed that 2023 is poised to become the hottest year in recorded human history.
Throughout the Northern Hemisphere summer, global temperatures reached unprecedented levels, setting a new record. Over the past three months, regions across Asia, Africa, Europe, and North America experienced severe heatwaves, droughts, and wildfires, resulting in substantial impacts on economies, ecosystems, and public health.
The average global temperature during the months of June, July, and August reached 16.77 degrees Celsius (62.19 degrees Fahrenheit), surpassing the previous record set in 2019, which was 16.48°C, by a significant margin.
Samantha Burgess, the deputy director of the European Union's Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S), pointed out that these three months constitute the warmest period in approximately 120,000 years, effectively spanning the entirety of human history.
August was particularly noteworthy, ranking as the hottest August on record and only surpassed in warmth by July 2023. This alarming trend has prompted UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to declare, "Climate breakdown has begun," echoing the famous testimony given before the US Congress 35 years ago by government scientist James Hansen, who first sounded the alarm on global warming. Guterres added, "Our climate is deteriorating at a pace that is outstripping our ability to address it."
Furthermore, the World Meteorological Organization issued a warning that the increasing frequency and intensity of heatwaves are contributing to a dangerous mix of air pollution that not only shortens human lifespans but also harms various forms of life.
Petteri Taalas, the head of the WMO, emphasized the negative repercussions on air quality, human health, ecosystems, agriculture, and daily life caused by heat waves.
The abnormally high sea surface temperatures across the globe have played a significant role in intensifying this summer's heat, with marine heatwaves affecting regions like the North Atlantic and the Mediterranean Sea.
Samantha Burgess also noted that if the Northern Hemisphere experiences a "normal" winter, there is a strong likelihood that 2023 will indeed become the warmest year in human history.
Scientists emphasize that the oceans have absorbed a staggering 90 per cent of the excess heat generated by human activities since the onset of the industrial age. This excess heat continues to accumulate due to the increasing presence of greenhouse gases, primarily from the burning of oil, gas, and coal, in the Earth's atmosphere.
Excluding the polar regions, global average sea surface temperatures exceeded the previous record set in March 2016 for an entire month, from July 31 to August 31.
Warmer oceans not only contribute to global warming but also hinder their ability to absorb carbon dioxide (CO2), exacerbating the ongoing cycle of climate change and disrupting vulnerable ecosystems.
The Antarctic sea ice remains at a historically low level for this time of year, with a monthly value 12 per cent below the average. This represents the most significant negative anomaly for August since satellite observations began in the 1970s, according to C3S.
Looking ahead, higher temperatures seem inevitable, as the El Niño weather phenomenon, which warms waters in the southern Pacific and beyond, has recently begun. Scientists anticipate the worst effects of the current El Niño to be felt at the end of 2023 and into the following year.
Prominent scientists have strongly reacted to the C3S report, with Mark Maslin, a climatology professor at University College London, describing 2023 as the year when climate records were not just broken but shattered. He stressed that extreme weather events are becoming increasingly common and more severe each year, emphasizing the urgent need for global leaders to take action.
Friederike Otto, a climate scientist at Imperial College London, succinctly noted that global warming persists because the world has not yet curbed its reliance on fossil fuels. This underscores the critical importance of transitioning to more sustainable energy sources.
The 2015 Paris climate summit aimed to limit global temperature increases to "well below" 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, with an aspirational target of 1.5 degrees Celsius.
However, the forthcoming "Global Stocktake" by UN experts is expected to reveal that current national carbon reduction commitments fall significantly short of these goals, potentially resulting in a global temperature increase of 2.7 degrees Celsius.
The C3S findings were derived from extensive computer-generated analyses, utilizing data from billions of measurements collected by satellites, ships, aircraft, and weather stations worldwide.
Proxy data, such as tree rings and ice cores, were also used to compare contemporary temperatures with historical records dating back to the mid-19th century.
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