2023 Will Officially Be the Hottest Year on Record, Scientists Say

A new report finds the global average temperature so far this year is 1.46 degrees Celsius warmer than the pre-industrial average

An aerial view of smoke rising from a wildfire on a mountain
A wildfire in British Columbia, Canada, this summer. Global warming increases the likelihood of extreme events like wildfires. BC Wildfire Service / Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

2023 will end up being the warmest year in recorded history, according to the European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S). Through the end of November, the global average temperature for the year is 0.13 degrees Celsius higher than for the first eleven months of 2016, which is currently the warmest year on record, the service reports.

This year’s global mean temperature so far is also 1.46 degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial average between 1850 and 1900. Scientists have warned that humans must prevent sustained temperatures from reaching more than 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels in order to limit the effects of climate change, including the risk of more frequent storms, droughts, food shortages and floods.

“As long as greenhouse gas concentrations keep rising, we can’t expect different outcomes from those seen this year,” Carlo Buontempo, C3S director, says in a statement. “The temperature will keep rising and so will the impacts of heatwaves and droughts. Reaching net zero as soon as possible is an effective way to manage our climate risks.”

Greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and methane trap heat in the atmosphere, warming the planet. The burning of fossil fuels, including coal, oil and gas, accounts for more than 75 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions.

Without swift emissions cuts, temperatures will rise further, meaning that “catastrophic floods, fires, heat waves, droughts will continue,” Samantha Burgess, C3S deputy director, tells Seth Borenstein of the Associated Press (AP). “2023 is very likely to be a cool year in the future unless we do something about our dependence on fossil fuels.”

The C3S report also found that last month was the hottest November in documented history. It was 0.32 degrees Celsius warmer than November 2020, which was previously the warmest November on record, as well as 0.85 degrees above the 1991 to 2020 average for November. It’s the sixth time this year a month has been the hottest of its kind ever recorded—every month since June has earned the distinction.

November also had two days where global average surface temperatures were more than 2 degrees Celsius warmer than the pre-industrial average. Between latitudes of 60 degrees north and 60 degrees south (roughly between southern Alaska and the southern tip of South America), the sea surface temperature for November was the highest on record for the month as well.

This world is currently experiencing an El Niño, the warm part of a natural tropical Pacific climate pattern, and it is accentuating the effects of human-caused climate change, per the AP.

The news of 2023’s record heat comes as leaders from across the world are meeting in the United Arab Emirates at the 28th United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP28). At the meeting, which runs from November 30 to December 12, countries will discuss progress they have made in addressing climate change and negotiate additional responses.

“The timing could not be more urgent,” Brenda Ekwurzel, who is the director of climate science at the Union of Concerned Scientists and was not involved in C3S’s report, says to CNN’s Rachel Ramirez.

“Wealthy and high-emitting countries, which have contributed the most to this record-breaking year… have a greater responsibility to make a fair, fast and funded phase out of fossil fuels to help limit the increasing extreme weather and climate change impacts,” she tells the publication.

At COP28, countries are debating whether to agree to phasing out or merely phasing down the use of fossil fuels, according to CBS News’ Li Cohen. More than 80 countries are pushing for a phase out, write Reuters’ Kate Abnett and Alison Withers.

On the conference’s opening day, nations created a loss and damage fund through which wealthy countries responsible for vast amounts of global emissions can provide funds to poorer countries that have faced some of climate change’s strongest impacts to date. But the $700 million pledged so far is only a tiny fraction of what is needed—about 0.2 percent, according to the Guardian’s Nina Lakhani.

On December 2 at the conference, the Biden administration announced an Environmental Protection Agency rule to reduce methane emissions from the oil and gas industry. The rule is meant to cut methane emissions by almost 80 percent through 2038, compared to the predicted level without the rule. It will phase out the practice of “flaring,” or the controlled burning of natural gas during oil extraction, for new oil wells and aim to cut down on methane leaks.

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