Six gloomy climate records - and one glimmer of hope

20 March, 2024

New record high temperatures were recorded on land and in the ocean – 2023 also saw records for sea level rise, shrinking glaciers and the loss of sea ice in Antarctica.

The sirens are wailing, warns the UN Secretary-General. But there is a glimmer of hope.

The situation of the sea ice in Antarctica is unprecedented. Archive image. Photo: Natacha Pisarenko/AP/TT

The world is stumbling close to a global warming of 1.5 degrees – albeit temporarily. The long-term temperature target in the Paris Agreement, which almost all countries have signed, is an attempt to slow down the most devastating effects of climate change.

2023 was the warmest year on record, with a global average temperature 1.45 degrees above pre-industrial levels, the United Nations Meteorological Organization (WMO) confirms in its “State of Global Climate” report. 2014–2023 was the warmest decade on record.

But those weren’t the only record entries.

Record warm seas

It has been so warm on the surface waters of the world’s oceans that scientists have struggled to find the words to describe the records. On an average day, nearly a third of the world’s oceans experience a marine heat wave. By the end of 2023, over 90 percent of the oceans had experienced heat waves at some point during the year, according to the WMO.

The Rhône Glacier in Switzerland. The residents have been trying to save the glacier for several years by covering the ice masses with blankets. Archive image. Photo: Matthias Schrader

In western North America and in Europe, the glaciers were melting at a rate that the WMO describes as extreme. All told, the glaciers globally lost the largest amount of ice on record to date, according to preliminary data. In Switzerland, the glaciers have lost around 10 percent in the last two years.

A warmer ocean takes up more space, and with the help of melting glaciers, sea level rise also reached new record levels in 2023. In the last decade, the rise has been more than twice as fast as in the first decade for which satellite data is available (1993–2002).

The situation in Antarctica is unprecedented. There, sea ice extent was by a wide margin the lowest on record, which worries scientists because the ice has a cooling effect on the planet. When the Antarctic winter reached its peak and the sea ice reached its annual maximum, it was one million square kilometres smaller than previous record years. That corresponds to the combined size of France and Germany, according to the WMO.

The sirens are wailing, says UN Secretary-General António Guterres in a comment.

Glimpse of hope

But sun, wind and water give hope, according to the WMO. The renewable energy types grew by 50 percent globally in 2023 compared to the previous year, which corresponds to 510 gigawatts.

It is still possible to keep long-term global warming below 1.5 degrees, according to Guterres:

By hastening the inevitable end of the fossil fuel era, with the G20 countries at the forefront of a just global energy transition.

Text: Sofia Eriksson/TT
Photo: Natacha Pisarenko/AP/TT, Matthias Schrader

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