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This year has “shattered” climate records and is set to be the hottest since measurements began, with greenhouse gas and sea levels reaching all-time highs and Antarctic sea ice at record lows, a pattern set to continue in 2024, said the World Meteorological Organization.
The El Niño weather phenomenon, which began this year, is likely to result in further high temperatures in 2024 because it “has the greatest impact on global temperatures after it peaks”, said the WMO, adding that the past nine years, 2015 to 2023, were the warmest on record.
The world had experienced a “deafening cacophony of broken records” in 2023, the WMO said.
The rate of sea level rise from 2013 to 2022 was more than twice that seen between 1993 and 2022, the first decade of the satellite record, because of continued ocean warming and melting of glaciers and ice sheets.
“These are more than just statistics. We risk losing the race to save our glaciers and to rein in sea level rise,” said WMO secretary-general Petteri Taalas.
“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.”
The alarming WMO report into the state of the global climate comes as tens of thousands of delegates from almost 200 countries meet in Dubai for the UN climate summit for the next fortnight.
A UN report this month found that the world was on course for a rise of up to 2.9C, far above the levels agreed at COP21 in Paris. Under the landmark Paris accord, countries agreed to limit global temperature rises to well below 2C and ideally to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels.
The global average temperature rise is already at least 1.1C.
UN secretary-general António Guterres urged world leaders at COP28 to take action, including committing to dumping fossil fuels, the biggest contributor to global warming.
“This year we have seen communities around the world pounded by fires, floods and searing temperatures. Record global heat should send shivers down the spines of world leaders,” he said.
The provisional WMO report for the months to the end of October, published to inform negotiations at COP28, shows 2023 was about 1.4C hotter than pre-industrial levels, with a plus or minus 0.12C margin of uncertainty.
This is distinct from the Paris accord goal of limiting the rise to 1.5C, which is on the basis of a long-term average.
Nevertheless, the temperature difference between 2023 and the two previously hottest years, 2016 and 2020, was so stark that the final two months of the year is “very unlikely to affect the ranking”, the WMO said.
This year’s COP28 talks are viewed as especially crucial to limiting global warming, after the UN found countries were failing to take sufficient action.
Guterres called on leaders to “fire the starting gun at COP28 on a race to keep the 1.5C limit alive”, including committing to phasing out fossil fuels, tripling renewable energy capacity and doubling energy efficiency.
The WMO report found that carbon dioxide levels were 50 per cent higher than pre-industrial levels, trapping heat in the atmosphere.
The burning of fossil fuels is the biggest contributor of carbon dioxide, which has a lifetime of hundreds of years.
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