EU scientists ‘virtually certain’ 2023 set to be hottest in 125,000 years

A man cools off at a fountain near the Pantheon, after giving up queuing to enter because it is too hot and the queue is too long, during a heatwave across Italy as temperatures are expected to cool off in the Italian capital, in Rome, Italy July 19, 2023. — Reuters

Scientists at the European Union (EU) revealed Wednesday that 2023 is set to be the world’s hottest year on record in 125,000 years after data showed last month was the hottest October by a massive margin.

According to the EU’s Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S) Deputy Director Samantha Burgess, last month exceeded the previous highest October average temperature, from 2019, by 0.4°C, describing the temperature anomaly as “very extreme”.

The statement by the C3S suggests that this anomaly has made 2023 as a whole “virtually certain” to be the warmest year recorded.

The heatwave is a result of fossil fuel emissions and the El Nino climate pattern, which warms eastern Pacific Ocean surface waters.

Although 2016 is the hottest year on record so far, 2023 is expected to surpass it.

As the Copernicus’ dataset goes back to 1940, the scientists at the EU were able to combine their data with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), discovering that this is the warmest year in the last 125,000 years, Burgess said.

The longer-term data from the United Nations (UN) climate science panel IPCC includes readings from sources such as ice cores, tree rings and coral deposits, the Deccan Herald reported.

Meanwhile, climate change is fuelling increasingly destructive extremes.

In 2023, that includes floods that killed thousands of people in Libya, severe heatwaves in South America, and Canada’s worst wildfire season on record.

Globally, the average surface air temperature in October of 15.3°C (59.5°F), was 1.7°C warmer than the average for October in 1850-1900, which Copernicus defines as the pre-industrial period.

The only other month to breach the temperature record by such a large margin was September 2023.

“September really, really surprised us,” Burgess said. “So after last month, it’s hard to determine whether we’re in a new climate state. But now records keep tumbling and they’re surprising me less than they did a month ago.”

El Nino effect

The World Meteorological Organisation on Wednesday said that the ongoing El Nino weather pattern, which is expected to last until at least April 2024, is causing concerns about more heat-fuelled destruction, including in Australia, which is bracing for a severe bushfire season due to hot and dry conditions.

“Most El Nino years are now record-breakers because the extra global warmth of El Nino adds to the steady ramp of human-caused warming,” said Michael Mann, a climate scientist at the University of Pennsylvania.

Mann’s findings come three weeks before the Conference of the Parties (COP28), the UN climate negotiations in Dubai, where nearly 200 countries will discuss stronger action against climate change.

The main focus will be whether governments agree to phase out carbon dioxide-emitting fossil fuel burning.

The UN and researchers predict that global fossil fuel production will double by 2030 due to current plans of fossil fuel producers to extract coal, oil, and gas.

Despite countries setting ambitious targets to cut emissions gradually, global CO2 emissions reached a record high in 2022, highlighting the need for urgent action.

“We must not let the devastating floods, wildfires, storms, and heatwaves seen this year become the new normal,” said Piers Forster, a climate scientist at the University of Leeds.

“By rapidly reducing greenhouse gas emissions over the next decade, we can halve the rate of warming,” he added.

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