In its latest report on the state of the climate, the United Nations has warned that this year is set to break a number of records for global temperatures and become the hottest ever recorded. This alarming news comes as scientists have repeatedly warned of the devastating effects of climate change, including rising sea levels, more extreme weather events, and increased loss of biodiversity.
The World Meteorological Organisation (WMO), a specialised agency of the United Nations, has released a stark warning about the current state of the climate, highlighting that 2023 has already seen a number of alarming records broken, in what it termed as ‘’leaving a trail of devastation and despair.”
Petteri Taalas, the secretary general of the WMO, has described the current state of the climate as a “deafening cacophony of broken records”. He highlighted that greenhouse gas levels are at record highs, global temperatures are rising at an alarming rate, sea levels are reaching record highs, and Antarctic sea ice is at record lows.
The release of the WMO’s provisional 2023 State of the Global Climate report comes as world leaders gather for the 28th Conference of the Parties (COP28) in Dubai, where they are under intense pressure to take concrete action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and limit global warming.
“The findings of the report should serve as a wake-up call to world leaders,” said Taalas. “We are running out of time to address the climate crisis, and we need a dramatic increase in ambition and action to prevent catastrophic impacts,” he added.
Antonio Guterres, UN secretary-general has stated that the findings of the report, which indicate record-breaking temperatures, should serve as a dire warning to world leaders. He said that the stakes have never been higher, and that the opportunity to keep warming within manageable limits is rapidly slipping away.
The Paris Climate Accords of 2015 set a goal of limiting global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, and ideally to 1.5 degrees Celsius. However, the WMO’s latest report shows that 2023 is already around 1.4 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, indicating that the Paris goals are rapidly slipping out of reach.
The WMO’s statement that the record-breaking temperatures are unlikely to be affected by the final two months of 2023 highlights the severity of the situation. The agency is not alone in its concerns, with many climate scientists warning that the world is heading towards a global temperature rise of 2.5 degrees Celsius or higher, with potentially devastating consequences.
The WMO noted that 2023 was not an El Niño year, which can lead to an increase in global temperatures, and that La Niña conditions — which typically lead to cooler temperatures — were observed during the first half of the year.
One of the most striking findings of the report is that nine of the hottest years on record have occurred in the last decade, a clear indication of the accelerating pace of climate change. This is a trend that is being observed not only in the global average, but also in many individual regions and countries.
Taalas noted that the findings are more than just statistics, warning that “we risk losing the race to save our glaciers and to rein in sea level rise”.
“We cannot return to the climate of the 20th century, but we must act now to limit the risks of an increasingly inhospitable climate in this and the coming centuries,” he remarked.
The WMO has highlighted the potential for El Niño to exacerbate the warming trend seen in 2023. El Niño is a natural climate cycle that occurs every few years, and typically causes an increase in global temperatures. The report warns that the effects of El Niño in 2024 are likely to be particularly severe, as the current La Niña cycle ends and the world enters a new El Niño cycle.
One of the key findings of the report is that concentrations of the three main greenhouse gases, which are driving climate change, reached record levels in 2022. While this is a worrying trend, it is not surprising given the continued growth in global emissions of these gases.
Carbon dioxide, which is the most abundant greenhouse gas, reached 50 per cent above pre-industrial levels, meaning that even if emissions are drastically reduced, temperatures will continue to rise in the coming years.