Global temperatures in 2024 could outstrip last year’s record, the World Meteorological Organisation has warned.
The UN weather agency said 2023 was the hottest on record by a “large margin”, with average temperatures approaching 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.
Analysis by WMO of six international data sets found that the annual average global temperature in 2023 was warmer by 1.45°C, with a variance of plus or minus 0.12°C, than the period before people started burning fossil fuels.
It came days after the release of similar data by the EU’s Earth observation programme Copernicus.
It found the global average temperature throughout the year was 14.98°C, overtaking 2016, the previous warmest year, by “a large margin”.
The temperature was 1.48°C warmer than the 1850-1900 pre-industrial level, it said.
New temperature records were set every month between June and December, with July and August being the hottest.
“Climate change is the biggest challenge that humanity faces. It is affecting all of us, especially the most vulnerable,” said WMO secretary general Prof Celeste Saulo.
“We cannot afford to wait any longer. We are already taking action but we have to do more and we have to do it quickly. We have to make drastic reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and accelerate the transition to renewable energy sources.
“The shift from cooling La Nina to warming El Nino by the middle of 2023 is clearly reflected in the rise in temperature from last year. Given that El Nino usually has the biggest impact on global temperatures after it peaks, 2024 could be even hotter,” she said.
She said while El Nino events come and go from one year to the next, longer-term climate change is escalating due to human activities.
“The climate crisis is worsening the inequality crisis. It affects all aspects of sustainable development and undermines efforts to tackle poverty, hunger, ill-health, displacement and environmental degradation,” said Prof Saulo, an Argentine who took up the post on January 1.
Since the 1980s, each decade has been hotter than the previous one. And each of the nine past years have been the warmest on record, with 2016, which witnessed a strong El Nino, and 2020 being the hottest.
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said humanity’s actions were “scorching the earth”.
“2023 was a mere preview of the catastrophic future that awaits if we don’t act now. We must respond to record-breaking temperature rises with path-breaking action,” he said.
“We can still avoid the worst of climate catastrophe. But only if we act now with the ambition required to limit the rise in global temperature to 1.5ºC and deliver climate justice.”
WMO’s provisional State of the Global Climate in 2023 report, published on 30 November, showed records were broken across the board – from atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations, ocean heat and acidification, sea level, sea ice extent and glacier mass balance.
Sea surface temperatures were exceptionally high for months, fuelled by damaging marine heatwaves, while Antarctic sea ice extent was the lowest on record.
The year was marked by extreme heat on land too, resulting in intense rainfall, floods and rapidly intensifying tropical cyclones which left a trail of destruction, death and huge economic losses.
WMO will issue its final State of the Global Climate 2023 report in March. This will include details on the socio-economic effects on food security, displacement and health.
The Paris Agreement seeks to hold the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels, while pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says that climate-related risks for natural and human systems are higher for global warming of 1.5°C than at present, but lower than at 2°C.