‘Hot mess’ as Earth heads for warmest year on record in 2023

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Earth is nearly certain to experience its hottest year after October smashed temperature records, with the UN secretary-general blaming governments for “runaway climate carelessness” by failing to cut fossil fuel production.

The Copernicus European Earth observation agency said temperatures in October were 0.85C above the long-term average for the month. This monthly anomaly was more than double the September rise, and the highest on record.

The “exceptional” October followed four months of global temperature records being “obliterated”, said Samantha Burgess, deputy director of Copernicus.

The succession of record-breaking heat data shows the world is edging closer to the 2015 Paris agreement goal of limiting the rise in average temperatures to ideally 1.5C, or well below 2C, since the industrial era.

Still of an animation showing wildfires in Australia.

“Laid out so starkly, the 2023 numbers on air temperatures, sea temperatures, sea ice and the rest look like something out of a Hollywood movie,” said David Reay, a climate scientist at Edinburgh university. “If our current global efforts to tackle climate change were a film it would be called Hot Mess.”

The latest UN report released on Wednesday ahead of the COP28 climate summit at the end of the month showed governments planned to produce more than double the amount of fossil fuels in 2030 than would be consistent with limiting warming to 1.5C.

“Governments are literally doubling down on fossil fuel production; that spells double trouble for people and planet,” said UN secretary-general António Guterres.

Development plans for fossil fuels by each country around the world indicated that coal production would increase until 2030, while oil and gas production would rise until at least 2050, the UN production gap report found.

It also warned of the “risks and uncertainties” around technologies such as carbon capture and storage and carbon dioxide emissions removal. These are often cited as a method for continuing production by oil and gas exporting nations, such as the UAE, host country for the climate summit.

Because of the questions about the effectiveness of deploying the carbon capture technologies at wide scale, countries should aim to phase out coal production and use by 2040, and cut oil and gas production and use by three-quarters by 2050 compared with 2020, the UN said.

The International Energy Agency’s latest scenarios suggest oil demand would fall by almost half by 2050 if governments followed through on clean energy pledges.

2023 is on target to be the hottest on record. Chart showing monthly Global surface air temperature anomalies (C), compared with 1991-2020 long-term average. For the calendar year to date, January to October, the global mean temperature for 2023 is the highest on record, 1.43°C above the 1850-1900 pre-industrial average, and 0.10°C higher than the ten-month average for 2016, currently the warmest calendar year on record.

“Our planet continues to pass through unfortunate milestones in its meteorological history,” said Akshay Deoras, a Reading university meteorologist. Temperature records were “getting shattered by a humongous margin”, he noted.

October also marked the sixth consecutive month that the extent of Antarctic sea ice hit record low levels for the time of year.

Sea temperature anomalies caused by the El Niño weather phenomenon, which is continuing to warm the Pacific Ocean, are lower than those reached at this time of year during similar patterns in 1997 and 2015, Copernicus said.

A series of extreme weather events around the globe has accompanied the high temperatures.

In the past month, an unusual outbreak of wildfires has raged in northern parts of Australia. Copernicus said the number and intensity of the fires had been “significantly above” the 20-year average in Western Australia and the Northern Territory.

At the same time, Storm Babet in northern Europe and Storm Aline in Portugal and Spain helped to drive rain levels higher than average across most of Europe. It was also wetter than average in parts of North America and China, while a hurricane of record intensity hit Mexico’s coastline last month.

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