Last Year Was the Hottest One in Recorded History

In 2024, scientists predict, we will exceed the warming threshold set by the Paris climate accords.

The sky is orange, with a bright yellow sun, and buildings covered in smoke

The city of Santiago, Chile covered in smoke from forest fires.Matias Basualdo/Zuma

This story was originally published by the Guardian and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

Two thousand twenty-three “smashed” the record for the hottest year by a huge margin, providing “dramatic testimony” of how much warmer and more dangerous today’s climate is from the cooler one in which human civilization developed.

The planet was 1.48 degrees Celsius hotter in 2023 compared with the period before the mass burning of fossil fuels ignited the climate crisis. The figure is very close to the 1.5 C temperature target set by countries in Paris in 2015, although the global temperature would need to be consistently above 1.5 C for the target to be considered broken.

Scientists at the EU’s Copernicus Climate Change Service (CCCS) said it was likely the 1.5  mark will be passed for the first time in the next 12 months.

The average temperature in 2023 was 0.17 C higher than in 2016, the previous record year, marking a very large increase in climate terms. The primary cause of this increased global heating was continued record emissions of carbon dioxide, assisted by the return of the natural climate phenomenon El Niño.

The high temperatures drove heatwaves, floods ,and wildfires, damaging lives and livelihoods across the world. Analysis showed some extreme weather, such as heatwaves in Europe and the US, would have been virtually impossible without human-caused global heating.

The CCCS data also showed that 2023 was the first year on record when every day was at least 1 C warmer than the 1850-1900 preindustrial record. Almost half the days were 1.5 C hotter and, for the first time, two days were more than 2 C hotter. The higher temperatures increased from June, with September’s heat so far above previous averages that one scientist called it “gobsmackingly bananas.”

Carlo Buontempo, a CCCS director, 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 civilization developed.”

“This has profound consequences for the Paris agreement and all human endeavors,” he said. “If we want to successfully manage our climate risk, we need to urgently decarbonize our economy whilst using climate data and knowledge to prepare for the future.”

Scientists said recently that the Earth’s life-support systems have been so damaged that the planet was “well outside the safe operating space for humanity.”

Samantha Burgess, the CCCS deputy director, said: “2023 was an exceptional year, with climate records tumbling like dominoes. Temperatures during 2023 likely exceed those of any period in at least the last 100,000 years.”

Professor Bill Collins, at the University of Reading, UK, said: “It is a shock that 2023 unarguably smashed the global temperature record. More global warming is expected to cause even wetter winters in the UK and yet more flooding.”

The CCCS highlighted a number of “remarkable” events in 2023, including huge blazes in Canada that helped drive up global carbon emissions from wildfires by 30 percent, and unprecedented ocean temperatures that caused marine heatwaves to strike many regionsAntarctic sea ice also crashed to record lows, having previously experienced little obvious impact from global heating.

More Mother Jones reporting on Climate Desk

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