Climate Change

2023 warmest on record, temperatures 1.48°C above preindustrial level

Current El Nino event may rank in the top five on record; expected to end by April-June  

By Rohini Krishnamurthy
Published: Friday 05 January 2024
Photo: iStock

The year 2023 is the warmest year on record by a “huge margin,” with global temperatures reaching 1.48 degrees Celsius above the preindustrial level, according to data from Copernicus, the Earth observation component of the European Union’s space programme.

This is higher than the 1.43°C that was reported by the Japanese reanalysis project (JRA-55) conducted by the Japan Meteorological Agency earlier this week, Zeke Hausfather, climate scientist and energy systems analyst, wrote on X (formerly Twitter).

The graph shared by Zeke Hausfather on X

From January to November 2023, the global mean temperature was also the highest on record, reaching 1.46°C above the 1850-1900 pre-industrial average, Copernicus said on its website.

It was also 0.13°C higher than the eleven-month average for 2016, the warmest calendar year on record, it added. 

These records were set when El Nino, a recurring climate pattern characterised by unusually warm ocean temperatures in the Equatorial Pacific, was of moderate strength.

“These records coincide with a moderately strong El Nino, but they exceed expectations for even the strongest El Nino, if that were the only driving factor,” read a blog by James Hansen, Makiko Sato and Pushker Kharecha, researchers from Columbia University.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said there is a 54 per cent chance that this El Nino event will end up “historically strong”, potentially ranking in the top five on record. It is expected that El Nino will end and neutral conditions will return by April-June.

The researchers said that warming is also being driven by Earth’s increased absorption of sunlight. 

“The El Nino will fade in the next few months, but we anticipate that the string of record monthly temperatures will continue for a total of 12 and possibly 13 months because of Earth’s unprecedented energy imbalance,” they added.

By May 2024, the 12-month running-mean global temperature could be 1.6-1.7°C relative to 1880-1920. “Thus, given the planetary energy imbalance, it will be clear that the 1.5°C ceiling has been passed for all practical purposes,” they explained.

However, the year 2023 has seen temperatures briefly breaching 1.5°C. The global mean temperature crossed the 1.5⁰C limit in the first week of June, according to Copernicus.

And then on November 17, 2023, the world breached 2⁰C of warming, according to preliminary analysis from the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF). The temperatures were 2.06°C warmer than the pre-industrial era. 

The global temperature for November 17 was 1.17°C above the 1991-2020 average, Samantha Burgess, deputy director of Copernicus Climate Change Service at Copernicus at ECMWF, wrote on X. This, she said, is the warmest on record.

November 2023 was about 1.75°C warmer than the November average for 1850-1900, the designated pre-industrial reference period.

The 2023 State of Climate Report highlighted that the world has already witnessed 38 days with global average temperatures above 1.5°C by September 12, 2023 — more than any other year.

This trend began towards the end of 2022. Temperatures from November 2022 to April 2023 reached 1.32°C above the pre-industrial era, according to Climate Central, a nonprofit organisation that researches and reports on climate science and impact. This was the warmest in the last 125,000 years, it added.

In May 2023, the World Meteorological Organization estimated that there was a 66 per cent likelihood that the annual average near-surface global temperature between 2023 and 2027 would be more than 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels for at least one year. Further, there is a 98 per cent likelihood that at least one of the next five years and the five-year period as a whole, would be the warmest on record.

In 2015, 196 parties signed the Paris Agreement to limit the long-term temperature goal to hold global average temperature increase to “well below 2°C above preindustrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels”.

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