The year of 2023 shattered heat records with an average global temperature of 14.98 Celsius (58.96 degrees Fahrenheit) — the highest ever temperature since records began in the 19th century, the EU’s Copernicus Climate Change Service confirmed in its latest report Tuesday.
EU climate scientists said that temperatures started consistently soaring each month from June to December, where they were noted to be warmer than their corresponding month the previous year. July and August 2023 were recorded to be the hottest months ever.
“Temperatures during 2023 likely exceed those of any period in at least the last 100,000 years,” said Samantha Burgess, deputy head of the Copernicus Climate Change Service.
Under the current 2015 Paris Agreement, countries have agreed to limit long-term global warming to 2 degrees Celsius — with a more ambitious target of 1.5 degrees. But with average temperatures already 1.48 degrees Celsius higher than ever before, Earth may be closer to breaching international climate goals in just a few years, researchers say.
There was an overall increase in the ocean’s temperature
Sea surface temperatures were about “half a degree or more” warmer than they usually are, said Burgess. This has had a huge effect on rising temperatures given that the ocean makes up 70% of the Earth’s surface and stores 90% of its heat. As ocean currents get warmer and move across the world, rising temperatures are likely to disrupt climate patterns and ecosystems underwater, particularly near coastlines. “Warmer sea surface temperatures intensify tropical storm wind speeds, giving them the potential to deliver more damage if they make landfall,” according to the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions.
The world may breach its international climate goals soon
With average temperatures already 1.48 Celsius higher than ever before, the 2015 Paris Agreement goal of limiting long-term global warming to 1.5, if not 2 degrees Celsius may be a “lost cause,” researchers say. Some climate scientists predict that 2024 could be warmer than 2023, or that this year is “very, very likely” to be one of the top three hottest years. While records show that the world is continuing to heat up faster than ever due to carbon emissions, scientists have also found that El Niño, a naturally occurring climate phenomenon that is associated with the warming of the ocean’s surface, was not the primary driver of unusual warmth last year.
Curbing pollution can increase warming
“Perhaps the best explanation for the extra warming is the continued drop in light-blocking pollution as society shifts to cleaner sources of energy,” one atmospheric physicist at NASA told Science.org. He explained that regulations to cut sulfur pollution “inadvertently curbed the light-reflecting clouds that the sulfur particles help create.” The loss of such clouds did not account for all the warming in 2023, but would help explain “significant additional warming.” A 2023 paper authored by American climate scientist James Hansen found that less pollution has contributed to an accelerated warming of 0.27 degrees Celsius per decade — up from 0.18 degrees Celsius per decade rate between 1970 and 2010. Scientists have long known that some types of pollution could help cool the climate, according to Climatewire, and a 2018 study found that getting rid of aerosols — human-generated polluting particles — could result in “additional global warming.”