WMO State of the Global Climate 2023 report

News Excerpt:

According to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) State of the Global Climate 2023 report, records for greenhouse gas levels, surface temperatures, ocean heat and acidification, sea level rise, Antarctic sea ice cover and glacier retreat have been broken.

Key points:

  • As per the report, heatwaves, floods, droughts, wildfires, and rapidly intensifying tropical cyclones caused misery and mayhem, upending millions' everyday lives and inflicting many billions of dollars in economic losses.
  • The WMO report confirmed that 2023 was the warmest year on record, with the global average near-surface temperature at 1.45 °C (with a margin of uncertainty of ± 0.12 °C) above the pre-industrial baseline. 
    • It was the warmest ten-year period on record.
  • On an average day in 2023, nearly one-third of the global ocean was gripped by a marine heatwave, harming vital ecosystems and food systems. 
    • Towards the end of 2023, over 90% of the ocean had experienced heatwave conditions at some point during the year.
  • The global set of reference glaciers has suffered the largest ice loss on record (since 1950), driven by extreme melt in western North America and Europe.
    • Antarctic sea ice extent was by far the lowest on record, with the maximum extent at the end of winter at 1 million km2 below the previous record year - equivalent to the size of France and Germany combined.

  • The number of people who are acutely food insecure worldwide has more than doubled, from 149 million people before the COVID-19 pandemic to 333 million people in 2023 (in 78 monitored countries by the World Food Programme). 
    • According to the report, weather and climate extremes may not be the root cause, but they are aggravating factors.
  • Weather hazards continued to trigger displacement in 2023, showing how climate shocks undermine resilience and create new protection risks among the most vulnerable populations.

Key messages from the report:

  • Greenhouse gases:
    • Observed concentrations of the three main greenhouse gases – carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide – reached record levels in 2022. 
    • CO2 levels are 50% higher than in the pre-industrial era, trapping atmospheric heat.
    • The long lifetime of CO2 means that temperatures will continue to rise for many years to come.
  • Ocean heat:
    • Ocean heat content reached its highest level in 2023, according to a consolidated analysis of data.
    • It is expected that warming will continue, an irreversible change on scales of hundreds to thousands of years.
    • More frequent and intense marine heatwaves negatively affect marine ecosystems and coral reefs.
    • The global ocean experienced an average daily marine heatwave coverage of 32%, well above the previous record of 23% in 2016. 
      • At the end of 2023, most of the global ocean between 20° S and 20° N had been in heatwave conditions since early November.
      • The Mediterranean Sea experienced near complete coverage of strong and severe marine heatwaves for the twelfth consecutive year.
    • Ocean acidification has increased as a result of absorbing carbon dioxide.
  • Sea level rise:
    • In 2023, the global mean sea level reached a record high in the satellite record (the highest since 1993), reflecting continued ocean warming (thermal expansion) and melting glaciers and ice sheets.
    • The rate of global mean sea level rise in the past ten years (2014–2023) is more than twice the rate of sea level rise in the first decade of the satellite record (1993–2002).
  • Cryosphere:

    • Antarctic sea-ice extent reached an absolute record low for the satellite era (since 1979) in February 2023 and remained at a record low from June until early November. 
    • Ice sheets
      • There are two principal ice sheets: the Greenland Ice Sheet and the Antarctic ice Sheet. 
      • Combining the two ice sheets, the seven highest melt years on record are all since 2010, and average mass loss rates increased from 105 Gigatonnes per year from 1992–1996 to 372 Gigatonnes per year from 2016–2020. 
        • This is equivalent to about 1 mm per year of global sea level rise attributed to the ice sheets in the latter period.
  • Glaciers: 
    • Preliminary data for the hydrological year 2022-2023 indicate that the global set of reference glaciers suffered the largest loss of ice on record (1950-2023), driven by the extremely negative mass balance in both western North America and Europe.
    • Glaciers in the European Alps experienced an extreme melt season. 
      • In Switzerland, glaciers have lost around 10% of their remaining volume in the past two years. 
      • Western North America suffered record glacier mass loss in 2023—at a rate five times higher than rates measured for the period 2000-2019. 
      • Glaciers in western North America have lost an estimated 9% of their 2020 volume over the period 2020-2023.

Extreme weather and climate events across the world:

  • Flooding linked to extreme rainfall from the Mediterranean Cyclone Daniel affected Greece, Bulgaria, Türkiye, and Libya, with a particularly heavy loss of life in Libya.
  • Tropical Cyclone Freddy was one of the world’s longest-lived tropical cyclones, and it had major impacts on Madagascar, Mozambique, and Malawi.
  • Tropical Cyclone Mocha was one of the most intense cyclones ever observed in the Bay of Bengal and triggered 1.7 million displacements across the sub-region from Sri Lanka to Myanmar and through India and Bangladesh and worsened acute food insecurity.
  • Hurricane Otis intensified to a maximum Category 5 system in a matter of hours – one of the most rapid intensification rates in the satellite era. 
    • It hit the Mexican coastal region, causing economic losses estimated at around US$15 billion and killing at least 47 people.
  • Extreme heat affected many parts of the world. Temperatures in Italy reached 48.2 °C, and record-high temperatures were reported in Tunis (Tunisia) 49.0 °C, Agadir (Morocco) 50.4 °C and Algiers (Algeria) 49.2 °C.
  • Canada’s wildfire season was the worst on record. The total area burned nationally for the year was 14.9 million hectares, more than seven times the long-term average. 
    • The fires also led to severe smoke pollution, particularly in the heavily populated areas of eastern Canada and the northeastern United States. 
    • The deadliest single wildfire of the year was in Hawaii, with at least 100 deaths reported – the deadliest wildfire in the USA for more than 100 years – and estimated economic losses of US$5.6 billion.
  • The Greater Horn of Africa region, which had been experiencing long-term drought, suffered substantial flooding in 2023.
  • Long-term drought persisted in north-western Africa, parts of the Iberian Peninsula, and parts of central and southwest Asia. 

Socioeconomic impacts:

  • The report cites figures that the number of people who are acutely food insecure worldwide has more than doubled, from 149 million people before the COVID-19 pandemic to 333 million people in 2023 (in 78 monitored countries by the World Food Programme). 
    • In 2022, 9.2% of the global population (735.1 million people) were undernourished. 
    • Protracted conflicts, economic downturns, and high food prices, further exacerbated by high costs of agricultural inputs driven by ongoing and widespread conflict around the world, are at the root of high global food insecurity levels. 
      • This is aggravated by the effects of climate and weather extremes. 
      • For example, the passage of Cyclone Freddy in southern Africa in February 2023 affected Madagascar, Mozambique, southern Malawi, and Zimbabwe. Flooding submerged extensive agricultural areas and severely damaged crops and the economy.

Climate Financing:

  • In 2021/2022, global climate-related finance flows reached almost USD 1.3 trillion, nearly doubling compared to 2019/2020 levels.
  • There is a large financing gap. In an average scenario, for a 1.5°C pathway, annual climate finance investments need to grow by more than six times, reaching almost USD 9 trillion by 2030 and a further USD 10 trillion through 2050.  
  • The cost of inaction is even higher. Aggregating over the period 2025-2100, the total cost of inaction is estimated at USD 1,266 trillion; that is, the difference in losses under a business-as-usual scenario and those incurred within a 1.5°C pathway. This figure is, however, likely to be a dramatic underestimate.
  • Adaptation finance continues to be insufficient. Though adaptation finance reached an all-time high of USD 63 billion in 2021/2022, the global adaptation financing gap is widening, falling well short of the estimated USD 212 billion per year needed up to 2030 in developing countries alone.

Way forward:

  • One essential component for reducing the impact of disasters is having effective multi-hazard early warning systems. 
    • The Early Warnings for All initiative seeks to ensure that early warning systems protect everyone by the end of 2027. 
    • Development and implementation of local disaster risk reduction strategies have increased since adopting the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction.
  • Renewable energy generation, primarily driven by the dynamic forces of solar radiation, wind, and the water cycle, has surged to the forefront of climate action due to its potential to achieve decarbonization targets. 
    • In 2023, renewable capacity additions increased by almost 50% from 2022, for a total of 510 gigawatts (GW) – the highest rate observed in the past two decades.

World Meteorological Organization (WMO):

  • It is a specialised agency of the United Nations responsible for promoting international cooperation in atmospheric science and meteorology.
  • WMO monitors weather, climate, and water resources and supports its Members in forecasting and disaster mitigation.
  • The organisation is committed to advancing scientific knowledge and improving public safety and well-being through its work.

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