The summer of 2023 has set a new record as the hottest ever measured globally, according to the European Observatory Copernicus. The reported global average temperature was 16.77°C during the three summer months (June, July, August). 2023 will likely go down as the hottest year in history.
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres reacted to this news, stating, “The climate collapse has begun.” He emphasized that scientists have long warned about the consequences of our dependence on fossil fuels and the rapid implosion of our climate, resulting in extreme weather events worldwide.
The Copernicus database, dating back to 1940, provides insights into past climates, which, when compared to tree rings and ice core data, suggest that the last three months have been the hottest in approximately 120,000 years, marking a critical moment in human history. Summer temperatures in the northern hemisphere, where the majority of the global population resides, were 0.66°C above the 1991-2020 averages, already influenced by global warming from human activities, and notably higher than the previous record in 2019.
Over the first eight months of the year, the global average temperature is only 0.01°C behind the hottest year ever recorded in 2016, underscoring the urgency of addressing climate change.
This record is on thin ice due to seasonal forecasts and the return of the El Niño phenomenon, which could lead to further warming. Despite three consecutive years of La Niña, which partially masked global warming, the years 2015-2022 have already been the warmest ever recorded. The warming of the oceans, which absorb 90% of the excess heat generated by human activity since the industrial era, plays a significant role in this phenomenon.
Since April, the average surface temperature of the oceans has reached unprecedented levels, surpassing the previous record set in March 2016 every day, reaching 21°C, well above historical data.
This warming of the oceans has far-reaching consequences, including atmospheric warming, increased humidity, more intense precipitation, and enhanced energy for tropical cyclones. Biodiversity is also threatened, with lower nutrient levels, decreased oxygen, coral bleaching, harmful algal blooms, and potential disruptions to reproductive cycles.
The message is clear: temperatures will continue to rise unless we reduce emissions, primarily from the burning of coal, oil, and gas.
Heatwaves, droughts, floods, and wildfires have affected numerous regions, including Europe, Asia, and North America, resulting in unprecedented events, loss of life, environmental damage, and economic costs.
In Greece, a fire near the Turkish border consumed more than 80,000 hectares of land. Significant fires also occurred on the islands of Corfu and Rhodes during the summer. As of September 2, Copernicus data indicated that 535,000 hectares had burned in Europe since the beginning of the year, exceeding the average of 447,000 hectares but remaining below the 1.21 million hectares recorded during the same period in 2017.
Heatwaves also impacted the Mediterranean region and North America, with temperatures regularly exceeding 40°C. In Hawaii, the deadliest wildfires in a century occurred in August, claiming at least 115 lives on the island of Maui and leaving hundreds missing.
In Canada, while there were no casualties, the fires were exceptionally devastating. In 2023, nearly 16.5 million hectares were scorched, equivalent to the size of Tunisia, surpassing the previous record of 7.11 million hectares set in 1995.
India experienced its hottest and driest August in over a century, while Japan recorded its highest average temperatures ever between June and August.
Australia witnessed its warmest winter on record, with an average temperature of 16.75°C from June to August. Latin America also experienced heatwaves during their winter months, with temperatures exceeding 30°C in Sao Paulo, Brazil, and approaching 25°C in Santiago, Chile. In Argentina, Buenos Aires recorded the hottest August 1st since census records began, with a temperature of 30°C, unusual for the season.
In Asia, the monsoon season resulted in significant casualties, with at least 175 people killed in Pakistan, at least 155 in India, and at least 41 in South Korea. Northern China also experienced torrential rains, resulting in the deaths of at least 62 people. Despite the human toll, India saw below-average rainfall in August, contributing to record temperatures in the country.
Heatwaves have detrimental effects on air quality, human health, ecosystems, agriculture, and daily life. Fine particle pollution, emitted by vehicles, industry, and fires, was identified as the greatest external threat to global public health. Climate change and air quality are interconnected, and addressing both issues is crucial.