Copernicus report: 2023 is officially the hottest year on record as global temperatures close in on warming limit

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(NEW YORK) — A year featuring extreme events across the globe is now officially Earth’s hottest year on record, according to Copernicus, Europe’s climate change service.

2023 has been confirmed as the hottest year on record surpassing 2016, the previous hottest year, by a large margin, according to a new climate report released by Copernicus on Tuesday. The data for this record goes back to 1850.

The global average temperature for 2023 was 14.98 degrees Celsius (58.96 F). The previous record was 14.81 degrees Celsius (58.66 F) set in 2016.

Samantha Burgess, deputy director of Copernicus, said 2023 was an exceptional year “with climate records tumbling like dominoes.”

The record-breaking year, wrapped up with another new record. December 2023 was the warmest December on record globally.

The report also highlights that July and August were Earth’s two warmest months on record along with the Northern Hemisphere’s summer season also reaching new highs.

Analysis shows that 2023 was 1.48 degrees Celsius (2.66 F) warmer than the 1850-1900 pre-industrial reference level with close to half of the days in 2023 surpassing the 1.5°C warming limit. Two days in November featured days that were more than 2°C warmer for the first time on record, alarming experts.

“Not only is 2023 the warmest year on record, it is also the first year with all days over 1°C warmer than the pre-industrial period. Temperatures during 2023 likely exceed those of any period in at least the last 100,000 years,” Burgess said in a statement.

While this sets a dire precedent, researchers emphasize that temporarily exceeding limits set in the Paris Agreement do not constitute a failure to the agreement. The limit set forth in the agreement looks at the climate average over many years.

Average air temperatures were either the warmest on record or close to the record on every continent except Australia.

According to NOAA, the last time Earth recorded a colder-than-average year was in 1976.

Greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels and strong El Niño conditions over the equatorial Eastern Pacific both played a role in sending 2023 global temperatures to a record high and could push temperatures even higher in 2024.

The World Meteorological Organization says that the current El Niño event is expected to last through at least April and will fuel further temperature increases in the coming months. El Niño impacts on global temperatures typically play out in the year after its development, meaning 2024 will likely feature further spikes in temperatures on both land and in the ocean.

Marine heatwaves all over the globe, including the Gulf of Mexico and North Atlantic, contributed to unprecedented ocean temperatures that set even more records.

Analysis of Copernicus’ ERA5 dataset shows that global average sea surface temperatures reached record levels from April through December.

Record highs set both on land and in the ocean contributed to what researchers called a “remarkable” year for Antarctic sea ice. Both the daily and monthly sea ice extents reached all-time minima in February 2023 with eight months of the year featuring record low extents.

An alarming number of extreme events were recorded across the globe last year, including record-breaking heatwaves, relentless droughts, catastrophic floods and devastating wildfires. According to researchers, the unprecedented 2023 wildfire season in Canada was a major contributor to a 30% estimated increase in global wildfire carbon dioxide concentrations last year.

“The extremes we have observed over the last few months provide a dramatic testimony of how far we are now from the climate in which our civilization developed,” Carlo Buontempo, director of the Copernicus Climate Change service, said in a statement.

Globally, concentrations of two major greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide and methane, hit record highs in 2023 according to the report. Carbon dioxide levels in 2023 were 2.4 ppm higher than in 2022 with methane concentrations increasing 11 ppb year-over-year.

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