2023: Indicators of an unprecedented climate crisis

2023 was the hottest year on record for greenhouse gases, heat, and ocean acidification, which is raising sea levels and affecting glaciers.

This is according to a report by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), the UN’s authoritative voice on weather, climate, and water.

Last year, the global average near-surface temperature was 1.45 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, the warmest 10-year period on record.

These climate disruptions have not only caused problems in the daily lives of millions of people but also cost millions of dollars in damages, the global report says.

Concentrations of carbon dioxide (CO2), methane and nitrous oxide are estimated to have reached record levels in 2022 and continued to rise in 2023, despite the Paris Agreement to reduce emissions by 2050.

“The scientific evidence on climate change has been available for more than five decades, yet we have missed a generation of opportunities,” lamented WMO Secretary-General Celeste Saulo in the report.

Effects on the oceans

As a result, on a typical day in 2023, nearly one-third of the ocean surface will be affected by a marine heat wave, damaging vital ecosystems and food systems.

Similarly, sea surface temperatures in the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean and the El Niño signature have led to changes in rainfall and drought patterns in the region.

Impacts on glaciers

Glaciers have experienced the greatest loss of ice since 1950, with extreme melting in both western North America and Europe.

Glaciers in Switzerland, for example, have lost about 10 percent of their volume.

Impact on Humanity

Meanwhile, according to the World Food Program (WFP), the number of acutely food-insecure people has doubled from 149 million before the H1N1 pandemic to 333 million in 2023.

The largest recorded economic loss from a single event in 2023 was caused by Hurricane Otis on the Mexican coast, which left 47 people dead, and 32 missing and caused an estimated US$15 billion in damage.

Droughts and rains

Among the most significant drought areas were northern Argentina and Uruguay, affecting supplies to major centers, including Montevideo. A similar situation occurred in eight Brazilian states.

Meanwhile, the return of El Niño in 2023 affected the entire maize growing season in Central America and the northern parts of South America, where water shortages and high temperatures reduced area and yields.

On the positive side

The WMO report also offers some reasons for optimism: in 2023, renewable energy capacity additions will increase by almost 50 percent.

This will bring the total to 510 gigawatts (GW), the highest rate in two decades.

The increase in renewable energy generation, driven primarily by solar radiation, wind, and the water cycle, has positioned it as a leading force in climate action to meet decarbonization targets.

To meet the goals of a 1.5°C trajectory, annual investment in climate finance needs to increase more than sixfold.

This will need to reach $9 trillion by 2030 and an additional $10 trillion by 2050, according to the WMO.