Climate Change

This year will be warmest in more than 170 years, WMO confirms in report launched at COP28

Libya Medicane, Cyclone Freddy, accelerating Antarctic sea ice loss and rising sea levels caused as due to intense warming in first 10 months of 2023

 
By Akshit Sangomla
Published: Thursday 30 November 2023
Representation photo from iStock__

The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) has confirmed that 2023 is going to be the warmest year on record. By the end of October, the Earth was already 1.4 degrees Celsius (°C) warmer than pre-industrial levels (1850-1900) for the same period. This has happened because of the combined impact of global warming and the ongoing El Nino conditions.

This was part of the provisional State of the Global Climate in 2023 report released by WMO at the 28th Conference of Parties (COP28) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

This has been done to inform the negotiations that are going to be carried out on different aspects of climate change impacts and actions at the climate change conference from November 30 to December 12, 2023.

The intensity of the warming in the first 10 months is such that even if the next couple of months are not accounted for in the calculation of annual average temperature, 2023 would still be significantly warmer than 2016 and 2020, which were the warmest years on record before the current one.

The warming in 2023 has also brought with it many extreme weather events and other impacts such as record low sea ice extent in Antarctica. The extreme weather events have included devastating floods such as those in Libya in September which killed almost 4,000 people (official figures) and tropical cyclones such as Freddy in March.

The floods in Libya were caused by Medicane Daniel which was made much more severe by global warming. The World Weather Attribution consortium of climate scientists had found that the rainfall that occurred in Libya from Daniel was made 50 times more likely by climate change.

Freddy, which surprised weather agencies and climate scientists with its longevity, registered record breaking phases of rapid intensification and bounced back and forth between Madagascar, Mozambique and Malawi.

This had happened because of much warmer-than-usual sea subsurface temperatures in the southern Indian Ocean region where Freddy spent most of its time before making the first landfall in Madagascar.

Many other tropical cyclones after Freddy have undergone rapid intensification which is extremely difficult to keep track of and forecast. This makes designing early warning systems for tropical cyclones in warming world quite challenging.

WMO said global oceans have witnessed record warmth from April to October.

The ongoing El Nino conditions in the equatorial Pacific Ocean, which are going to continue into the first four months of 2024 and peak between November 2023 and January 2024, may lead to the continuation of both the warming and the associated increase in intensity, frequency and change in other characteristics of extreme weather events.

This is because the impacts of El Nino such as increase in the global average temperatures, decrease in rainfall in many regions and increase in rainfall in others generally are maximum after the event has peaked.

“Greenhouse gas levels are (at a) record high. Global temperatures are (at a) record high. Sea level rise is (at a) record high. Antarctic sea ice is (at a) record low. It is a deafening cacophony of broken records,” said Petteri Taalas, secretary general of WMO in the press conference at COP28 in Dubai.

“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,” he added. 

The warming is clearly occurring because of the excess carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere which are at record levels. For instance, CO2 levels were 50 per cent higher than pre-industrial levels, according to WMO.

Another slow onset impact of global warming is sea level rise, the rate of which between 2013 and 2022 was twice of that between 1993 and 2002. This was mainly because of continued ocean warming, glacial melting and melting of ice sheets.

The maximum sea ice extent in Antarctica was the lowest on record. The southernmost icy continent was missing ice over an area of 1 million square km. This area is lower than the previous record by an area equivalent to the combined area of Germany and France, according to the WMO.

But the report also shows that all is not lost and steps to limit warming to under 1.5°C is still possible.

“We have the roadmap to limit the rise in global temperature to 1.5°C and avoid the worst of climate chaos,” said Antonio Guterres, United Nations secretary general said in a statement delivered via video conferencing at the press event.

“But we need leaders to fire the starting gun at COP28 on a race to keep the 1.5 degree limit alive: By setting clear expectations for the next round of climate action plans and committing to the partnerships and finance to make them possible; By committing to triple renewables and double energy efficiency; And committing to phase out fossil fuels, with a clear time frame aligned to the 1.5-degree limit,” he added.

All findings of the WMO report should inform negotiations at COP28, especially on the Global Goal on Adaptation framework and the operationalisation of the Loss and Damage Fund, according to Guterres.

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