'Cacophony of broken records' as 2023 set to be hottest year

World Meteorological Organisation calls for urgent action from global leaders at Cop28

Locals help firefighters as they try to extinguish a wildfire burning near the village Vlyhada near Athens in July in Athens, Greece. Getty Images
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It is now "virtually certain" that 2023 will be the hottest year on record, the World Meteorological Organisation has said, amid a series of temperature records this year.

The UN weather agency's general secretary said there had been a "cacophony of broken records" linked to a series of extreme weather events in 2023, which likely saw the hottest month on land in the last 120,000 years in July.

The release of the global agency’s provisional findings for the year has been timed to inform negotiations at the Cop28 climate conference, which began in Dubai on Thursday.

The report called for urgent action from global leaders to hit the brakes on fossil fuel emissions, which is the main cause of the warming climate, amid the series of worrying temperature rises.

“Record global heating should send shivers down the spines of world leaders and it should trigger them to act,” UN Secretary-General António Guterres said in Dubai on Thursday as the Cop28 climate summit began.

“We are living through climate collapse in real time, and the impact is devastating.”

The report said April through to October saw record high monthly temperatures in the oceans, while July was the likely the hottest on land in the last 120,000 years.

This year has seen a string of natural disasters, including extreme flooding from Storm Daniel, which killed thousands of people in Libya, wildfires in Canada, which burnt 18.5 million hectares - an area bigger than England and Wales - and severe drought in Uruguay that emptied its reservoirs and pushed the country close to running out of fresh water.

Akshay Deoras, a research scientist at the National Centre for Atmospheric Science and the Department of Meteorology at the University of Reading, told The National the rise in temperatures this year has been "alarming".

He said: "When you increase greenhouse gas emissions, what that is going to do is it is going to increase the temperature over the ocean as well as over the land. And when that happens you get decline in sea ice.

"What basically has happened this year is that the magnitude of all these individual things is so large, be it the land temperature, or the ocean temperature, or the extent of the sea ice, that this has been really alarming.

"And continuing forward I expect what will happen is that we will continue to get similar trends, so in a certain year, you would continue to see some months being the hottest on record."

Petteri Taalas, Secretary-General of the WMO, said greenhouse gas levels, global temperatures and sea level rise are all at record highs.

"Antarctic sea ice is record low. It's a deafening cacophony of broken records," he added.

"These are more than just statistics. We risk losing the race to save our glaciers and to rein in sea level rise.

"We cannot return to the climate of the 20th century, but we must act now to limit the risks of an increasingly inhospitable climate in this and the coming centuries."

"Extreme weather is destroying lives and livelihoods on a daily basis - underlining the imperative need to ensure that everyone is protected by early warning services."

Greenhouse gases continue to rise despite years of international government pledges to bring them down which is creating an increasingly hostile environment for human beings and wildlife by bringing fiercer heatwaves, droughts and storms.

Data up until October shows 2023 to have warmed 1.4°C above the pre-industrial average, which is higher than the previous two hottest years of 2020 and 2016 and the final two months are unlikely to change this outcome, the WMO said.

Temperatures are likely to remain high going into 2024 due to El Nino - a naturally occurring process in the eastern tropical Pacific that sees warmer water rise to the surface.

It adds to the warming in the atmosphere already caused by humans and leads to more severe droughts across areas like Indonesia, Australia, India, South Africa and the Amazon, increasing the likelihood of wildfires and making food harder to grow.

Carbon dioxide levels are 50 per cent higher than before the Industrial Revolution, warming the atmosphere and the ocean, while the sea is rising twice as fast now than in the 1990s because of melting glaciers.

Antarctic sea ice has also been at a record low this year with ice covering an area the size of France and Germany combined missing compared to the previous low record.

Heatwave around the world - in pictures

Swiss glaciers have lost 10 per cent of their ice in the last two years, the WMO said, while those in the Pyrenees are likely to disappear completely in a few years, Spanish scientists have previously warned.

Updated: November 30, 2023, 2:08 PM