In the past few months, the globe has experienced abnormal heat, resembling a disaster movie with soaring temperatures, wildfires, storms, and floods, as reported by scientists. The latest data reveals the exceptional nature of this global heat crisis. Two significant reports highlight this alarming scenario: one declares that humanity has just endured the hottest 12-month period in at least 125,000 years, while the other predicts that 2023 is “virtually certain” to become the hottest year in recorded history, following five consecutive months of record-breaking temperatures.
“We have become all too used to climate records falling like dominoes in recent years,” says David Reay, executive director of the Edinburgh Climate Change Institute at the University of Edinburgh. “But 2023 is a whole different ball game in terms of the massive margin by which these records have been broken.”
The period from November 2022 to the end of October 2023 marked the hottest 12 months, with an average temperature of 1.32 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, according to Climate Central. This temperature surge is not normal, driven primarily by the excessive carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere from burning fossil fuels.
The impact of this extreme heat was felt by the vast majority of the global population, with 90% experiencing at least 10 days of high temperatures with distinct climate fingerprints. In India, 86% of the population (1.2 billion people) endured at least 30 days of high temperatures, intensified threefold by climate change. In the United States, this affected 26% of the population, equivalent to 88 million people.
Particular cities faced severe challenges, especially in the South and Southwest of the United States. Houston, for instance, witnessed the longest extreme heat streak of any major city globally, enduring 22 consecutive days of extreme heat between July and August.
A subsequent analysis by the European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service further emphasizes the gravity of the situation, declaring that 2023 is “virtually certain” to set a new record for the hottest year. The prediction follows the revelation that October 2023 was the hottest October on record, surpassing the previous record set in 2019 by 0.4 degrees Celsius.
Each month since June has shattered monthly heat records, with every month since July exceeding 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. The year-to-date average is 1.43 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, perilously close to the internationally agreed goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
Despite scientists’ primary concern about long-term temperature trends, the past few months above the 1.5-degree threshold offer a forewarning of the intensified impacts of global warming. This includes more violent storms, heavier rains and floods, and more intense, frequent, and prolonged heatwaves, droughts, and wildfires.
In addition to record land temperatures, ocean temperatures have consistently been at record-high levels since May, fueling the development of hurricanes and tropical storms worldwide. Antarctic sea ice has also remained at record lows for six consecutive months.
The alarming statistics underscore the urgent need for action, adding extra significance to the upcoming UN COP28 climate conference in Dubai. Scientists stress the importance of ceasing the burning of oil, gas, and coal. However, a UN report indicates that governments plan to produce more than double the amount of fossil fuels, exceeding the limit required to cap global heating at 1.5 degrees Celsius.
“The only thing more remarkable than the magnitude of these increases in global temperature and sea ice loss,” remarks David Reay, “is our continuing failure to put the world on track to meet the Paris climate goals.”