Is 2023 going to be the hottest year on record?

(Credit: Unsplash)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum./

Author: Ian Shine, Senior Writer, Forum Agenda

  • The southern hemisphere has just experienced not only its warmest April on record, but its warmest month ever, according to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Information.
  • Temperature records have been broken in many countries this year, and climate scientists say 2023 could become the hottest year on record.
  • Rising carbon emissions and climate change are key factors behind this prediction, and the anticipated return of the El Niño weather phenomenon is also playing a part.

Vietnam, Poland, Spain, China, Latvia, Myanmar, Portugal, Belarus, the Netherlands, Thailand … these are just some of the countries where temperature records have been broken this year.

At the same time, the southern hemisphere has just experienced not only its warmest April on record, but its warmest month ever, according to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Information (NOAA). The average temperature during the month was 0.9°C above the 20th-century average.

And globally, 2023 saw the second-warmest March on record, according to NASA, NOAA, the Japanese Meteorological Agency and the EU’s Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S).

“It was much warmer than average over a vast swathe of land covering North Africa, south-western Russia and most of Asia, where many new high-temperature records for March were set,” says C3S. “Above-average temperatures also occurred over north-eastern North America, Argentina and neighbouring countries, as well as across a large part of Australia and coastal Antarctica.”

A new temperature record in 2023?

Climate change is playing a major part, leading the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) to say – for the first time ever – that global temperatures are more likely than not to move more than 1.5­°C above pre-industrial levels in the next five years.

Another major factor is the anticipated return of the El Niño weather phenomenon. The WMO says this combination is set to push global temperatures to a new record in the next five years, while climate scientists from a range of other organizations say that this could happen as soon as this year or 2024.

El Niño – which means ‘little boy’ in Spanish – is the term for when warmer waters cause the Pacific jet stream to move south of its neutral position. This leads to areas in the northern United States and Canada becoming warmer than usual, the NOAA says.

“El Niño is normally associated with record-breaking temperatures at the global level,” C3S Director Carlo Buontempo explains. “Whether this will happen in 2023 or 2024 is not yet known, but it is, I think, more likely than not.”

The world’s hottest year on record is 2016, when there was a strong El Niño. And the world’s eight hottest years on record have all come in the past eight years – a trend that has coincided with rising CO2 emissions, as the charts below show.

This year looks likely to bring together an El Niño and rising CO2 emissions. Global energy-related CO2 emissions rose by 0.9% to a record of over 36.8 gigatonnes last year, the International Energy Agency says. And the world’s two largest economies show no sign of cutting back – US energy-related carbon emissions are predicted to rise this year, and China’s carbon emissions hit a new high in the first quarter of 2023.

“Depending on how quickly the coming El Niño develops and how strong it becomes, by the end of December 2023, temperatures could easily surpass all other years we’ve seen so far,” says meteorologist Scott Sutherland. “Based on the pattern that has played out in the past, especially in 2015 and 2016, next year will likely be even hotter.”


How is the World Economic Forum fighting the climate crisis?

The World Economic Forum’s Centre for Nature and Climate accelerates action on climate change and environmental sustainability, food systems, the circular economy and value chains, and the future of international development.

  • Through the Global Plastic Action Partnership, the Forum is bringing together government, business and civil society to shape a more sustainable world by eradicating plastic pollution.
  • Global companies are collaborating through the Forum’s initiative to support 1 trillion trees by 2030, with over 30 companies having already committed to conserve, restore and grow more than 3.6 billion trees in over 60 countries.
  • Through a partnership with the US Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry and over 50 global businesses, the Forum is encouraging companies to join the First Movers Coalition and invest in innovative green technologies to enable net-zero emissions by 2050.
  • The Forum is bringing global leaders together to reduce the environmental impact of value chains and make the $4.5 trillion circular economy opportunity a reality. The African Circular Economy Alliance is funding circular economy entrepreneurs and circular economy activities in Rwanda, Nigeria and South Africa, while the Circular Electronics in China project is helping companies reduce and recycle 50% of e-waste by 2025.
  • Since launching in 2020, the Forum’s open innovation platform UpLink has welcomed over 40,000 users who are working on more than 30 challenges crowdsourcing solutions to the climate crisis.
  • More than 1000 partners from the private sector, government and civil society are working together through the 2030 Water Resources Group to ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all by 2030. The group has facilitated close to $1 billion of financing for water-related programmes.

Contact us for more information on how to get involved.

Temperature records already broken this year

The rapid increases in temperatures during March were partly due to rising sea surface temperatures in the equatorial Pacific Ocean, Sutherland says.

And in April, global ocean temperatures went on to set a new record for the month, sitting 0.86°C above the long-term average, the NOAA points out. “This marked the second-highest monthly ocean temperature for any month on record, just 0.01°C shy of the record-warm ocean temperatures set in January 2016,” it adds.

Other temperature records already broken this year include Vietnam hitting just over 44.1°C, Myanmar touching 43.8°C – its highest for a decade – and Spain and Portugal breaching April records in certain cities. Numerous European countries also broke January temperature records this year.

And in mid-May, temperatures in the Western US and Canada soared above levels normally recorded in late July, triggering wildfires. A “heat dome” weather system is hitting the area – when the atmosphere forms a lid trapping hot ocean air – revealing “clear fingerprints of climate change” according to Climate Central, an independent group of scientists.

Extreme weather is ranked as the second-biggest risk facing the world in the next two years and the third-biggest risk in the next 10 years, according to the World Economic Forum Global Risks Report 2023. The biggest risk in the next 10 years is seen as a failure to mitigate climate change.

“Heatwaves and droughts are already causing mass mortality events (a single hot day in 2014 killed more than 45,000 flying foxes in Australia),” the report says. “As floods, heatwaves, droughts and other extreme weather events become more severe and frequent, a wider set of populations will be affected.”

The World Economic Forum has a number of initiatives supporting the industry action needed to accelerate the overhaul of national energy systems and help limit global warming to less than 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. This includes the Alliance of CEO Climate Leaders, Industrial Clusters: The Net-Zero Challenge and the Low-Carbon Emitting Technologies Initiative.

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