2023 was hottest year on record, scientists confirm

January 12, 2024|Written by Katy Lee

Last year was the hottest on record, EU scientists confirmed this week, raising pressure on policymakers to move faster to decarbonise the economy.

2023 was 1.48°C warmer than the pre-industrial average – perilously close to the 1.5°C limit set by the Paris Agreement.

Unprecedented heat from June onwards meant average global temperatures soared past the previous warmest year, 2016, “by a large margin”, the EU’s Copernicus Climate Change Service (CCCS) said.

“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 civilisation developed,” said CCCS director Carlo Buontempo.

“This has profound consequences for the Paris Agreement and all human endeavours. If we want to successfully manage our climate risk portfolio, we need to urgently decarbonise our economy whilst using climate data and knowledge to prepare for the future.”

From the “megafires” that scorched Canada to the floods that killed more than 4,300 people in Libya, intensifying extreme weather events in 2023 showed how the climate crisis is already upending economic stability – heavily impacting key sectors such as agriculture, playing havoc with global supply chains, and contributing to inflation.

The US saw more billion-dollar weather and climate disasters than in any year previously, according to the National Centers for Environmental Information.

Swenja Surminski, a professor at the London School of Economics (LSE) and managing director at insurance broker Marsh McLennan, said the global economy remained heavily geared towards fixing the damage from climate-related disasters, rather than preventing them in the first place.

“As these events become more frequent and widespread, the cost to business from direct losses, infrastructure damage and supply chain disruption is increasing,” she told Green Central Banking.

She noted LSE research that found that of all funds spent globally on disasters, only 15% goes on risk reduction or prevention, with the remaining 85% spent on recovery and repair after events.

Meanwhile, the finance industry continues to pour vast sums into the fossil fuel industry which is driving the crisis. In the seven years since the Paris Agreement was signed, the world’s 60 biggest banks financed the fossil fuel industry to the tune of US$5.5tn, according to the 2023 Banking on Climate Chaos report.

Researchers have also shown that scenarios used to assess the financial risks from climate change overlook many factors and do not match the predictions of scientific climate models.

Close to half of the days in 2023 were hotter than 1.5°C above the 1850-1900 level, the CCCS found. While this does not mean we have already breached the limits set by the Paris Agreement, it “sets a dire precedent”, the agency warned.

A rapid warming of the ocean surface was a key driver of the soaring air temperatures, with the switch to the El Niño season playing a contributing role.

But “the main long-term factor for high ocean temperatures is the continuing increase in concentrations of greenhouse gases,” the CCCS said.

From April to December, global average sea surface temperatures outstripped any previously recorded for the time of year, while Antarctic sea ice reached record lows in 2023.

Samantha Burgess, deputy director of the CCCS, described it as a year in which climate records tumbled “like dominoes”.

This page was last updated January 12, 2024

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