According to multiple new reports released in the final days of December, 2023 has officially become the hottest year since reliable record-keeping began over 140 years ago. Further analysis indicates this year surpassed the previous record, set just last year in 2022, by a significant margin.
The rising heat adds to a string of broken high temperature marks over the past decade and provides fresh evidence that the Earth continues to warm at an accelerating pace as human-caused climate change intensifies. Despite increasingly dire warnings from scientists, global emissions of heat-trapping gases also reached record levels this year – spelling more extreme weather ahead if rapid, deep emissions cuts do not occur.
Several research groups released updated data in recent days showing 2023 now ranks as the warmest year as compared to averages from the late 19th century:
According to NASA and NOAA in the United States, 2023 was roughly 1.5°F (0.8°C) above late 19th century levels globally, edging out 2022 by about 0.1°F (0.06°C). This makes 2023 the 11th straight year a record has been set in their analysis.
The European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service also found that 2023 was the warmest on record in its dataset, which goes back to 1800.
The Japan Meteorological Agency released similar findings, stating that the globe in 2023 was 1.83°F (1.02°C) above its 1891-1900 average.
Regardless of the dataset used, these reports collectively confirm that 2023 claims hottest year status based on historical records spanning over a century. They also reveal the 2nd half of the 2010s and early 2020s are reshaping all notions of “normal” warmth as climate change’s influence strengthens.
Just in December alone, all-time warm temperature marks for the month were set in places as far-flung as Seattle and New York City in the United States, Rio de Janeiro and Antarctica.
Table 1: 2023 Global Temperature Rankings By Agency
|2023 Temp Rank vs. Late 19th Century
|Margin Over Previous Record (2022)
|Warmest (+1.5°F / +0.8°C)
|Warmest (+1.7°F / +0.97°C)
|Warmest (+1.83°F / +1.02°C)
In the United States, over 4,500 record daily high temperatures were tied or topped compared to about 650 record low temperatures in 2023 so far, according to NOAA’s monthly climate reports. Much of Europe saw two to four times as many warm temperature milestones versus cold.
Globally, the last eight years now rank as the eight hottest on record as the Earth continues its long-term warming trajectory amid rising greenhouse gas concentrations.
Extreme Events Show Growing Risks
The excessive warmth helped fuel an onslaught of extreme and often deadly weather disasters in 2023 – offering a glimpse of the new climate reality taking hold.
At least 15 weather events caused over $1 billion in damage across the United States as of late December, according to NOAA – including Western drought and heat waves, a string of severe thunderstorms and tornadoes, devastating hurricanes like Ian, and unusual early-season ice storms. Hurricane Ian alone resulted in over 100 deaths and is estimated to be the costliest storm in Florida’s history.
Europe’s summer 2023 heat waves and drought were made over 20 times more likely due to human-induced climate change, scientists reported, as extreme heat fueled massive wildfires, strained power grids, and withered critical crops like maize. India was struck by a punishing March and April heat wave which led to shortages of electricity, water and food. China also battled summer heat and drought that drained hydropower resources and damaged harvests.
Around the globe, over 15 million people were displaced by floods, storms and droughts – with developing nations often suffering most severely despite contributing little to climate change historically.
At COP28 climate talks in November, United Nations Secretary General António Guterres warned that the world was on “a highway to climate hell with our foot still on the accelerator,” urging far steeper emissions reductions to avoid mounting loss of life and economic damages.
Greenhouse Gas Emissions Set New Record
Even amid the clear signs of a climate in crisis, newly published data from multiple agencies indicates that planet-warming carbon dioxide emissions from human activities increased yet again in 2023 – underlining the immense gap between talk and real-world action to date.
Projections from the Global Carbon Project indicate that CO2 emissions from fossil fuel burning and cement production reached 37.5 billion tonnes in 2023, up roughly 1% from 2022. This sets another all-time high since measurements began.
Emissions notably declined about 5% early in the COVID pandemic during lockdowns but have roared back since despite all the renewed talk of climate ambitions – exposing the deeply embedded role of oil, natural gas and coal across global energy systems, agriculture, transportation, buildings and industry.
Outlook for Coming Years: More Warming Baked In
Since greenhouse gases remain elevated in the atmosphere for centuries, the extreme warmth and weather now being observed reflects past rather than current emissions.
Just weeks ago at the COP28 summit, the World Meteorological Organization reported that the past 8 years were on track to be the eight warmest based on records dating to 1850 – with accelerating sea level rise and ocean heat content changes lagging further behind the observed atmospheric spike.
Due to that lag effect, climate scientists caution that more warming and extremes are essentially “baked in” for the next decade or two regardless of mitigation efforts today. How much worse it gets beyond that near-term window will depend largely on emissions cuts made now and in the 2020s.
Most projections show at least an additional 1-2°F (0.5-1°C) of global warming through around mid-century relative to today even in a low-emissions scenario – bringing intensifying risks of heat, drought, storms, flooding, and sea level rise. More alarming high-emissions scenarios forecast between 3-6°F (1.5-3°C) or more of additional warming by 2100.
“The key conclusions here are sobering,” noted Petteri Taalas, secretary general of WMO following release of the 2023 global temperature data, emphasizing the disconnect between climate goals and real-world emissions trends so far. “There is little to no indication we are bending the global emissions curve, even with all the alarming warnings from scientists.”
Without transformative underlying changes this decade, opportunities to stabilize warming below dangerous levels and build widespread climate resilience continue to diminish. The run of broken heat records across the 2010s and now 2020s underscores the rapidly closing window for serious climate action.
As the final year-end numbers for 2023 arrive, all key temperature analyses definitively show that no prior year has been as globally warm in the modern historical record as this one. Together with other climate extremes unfolding worldwide, these data deliver the latest warning that ambitious emissions cuts still remain elusive even as climate change dangers mount – presenting immense environmental, health and economic challenges now and especially in decades ahead if rapid systemic changes do not occur.
With the repeated warnings from scientists and little time left to meaningfully flatten the emissions curve, unprecedented cooperation and policy shifts across all sectors of society are clearly urgently needed to alter the current pathway toward highly disruptive future warming and associated harms. Whether the world collectively heeds these alarms or continues delaying forceful responses remains perhaps the overarching near-term question as the 2020s unfold.
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