Record climate change indicators in 2023, says WMO

Record climate change indicators in 2023, says WMO
19 March 2024

By the Climate Centre

Heatwaves, floods, droughts, wildfires and rapidly intensifying tropical cyclones upended everyday life for millions and inflicted billions of dollars in economic losses – that’s according to the latest WMO State of the Global Climate 2023 report.

It confirms that 2023 was the warmest year on record, with the global average temperature at 1.45°C above the pre-industrial baseline, amid the warmest ten-year period.

“Never have we been so close – albeit on a temporary basis at the moment – to the 1.5°C lower limit of the Paris Agreement on climate change,” said WMO Secretary-General Celeste Saulo.

“The WMO community is sounding the red alert to the world. Climate change is about much more than temperatures. What we witnessed in 2023, especially with the unprecedented ocean warmth, glacier retreat and Antarctic sea-ice loss, is cause for particular concern.”

‘Glimmer of hope’

The WMO report say that while climate extremes may not be the root cause of global food insecurity, “they are aggravating factors”: the number of people acutely food insecure worldwide has more than doubled, from 149 million before the Covid pandemic to 333 million in 2023 in 78 countries monitored by the World Food Programme.

Weather hazards also continued to trigger displacement in 2023, showing how climate shocks undermine resilience and create new protection risks among the most vulnerable populations.

The State of the Global Climate report, which also details the “glimmer of hope” represented by progress made with renewable energy, was released in time for World Meteorological Day on Saturday.

It comes as the Red Cross Red Crescent in Asia Pacific, especially, faces a raft of extreme-weather impacts.

The IFRC’s Disaster Response Emergency Fund (IFRC-DREF), most recently, has just approved an additional allocation of just over 500,000 Swiss francs for the Mongolian Red Cross after last week’s 4.5m-franc emergency appeal for a new dzud emergency; this complements an earlier grant of a similar amount and brings total start-up funding for the appeal to 1m Swiss francs.

The IFRC quotes the Mongolian government as saying that the current dzud situation “is already twice as critical as last year’s” and is expected to be “far more severe than the worst dzud recorded in 2010”.

Climate change has disrupted Mongolia’s seasons, leading to a rise “in recurrent summer droughts [affecting the availability of pasture] and subsequent harsh winters” since 2015, media reports quote UN Resident Coordinator Tapan Mishra as saying.

The southern Pakistani port of Gwadar, meanwhile, was declared a disaster zone late last month after some 48 hours of continuous heavy rainfall led to severe flooding, “part of a broader pattern of extreme weather events in Pakistan attributed to the global climate crisis,” the IFRC said; an IFRC-DREF operation was launched there for 500,000 Swiss francs to assist 28,000 people.

‘Socio-economic impacts’

A cold wave in Afghanistan has complicated humanitarian work in western areas of the country affected by last October’s earthquake that were already “were already grappling with severe poverty, unemployment, and food insecurity exacerbated by prolonged drought and economic challenges,” according to the IFRC’s emergency appeal.

And in the Marshall Islands an IFRC-DREF grant of just over 200,000 Swiss francs will enable the Red Cross to assist 5,000 of the nearly 14,000 people affected by the current drought.  

Listing the major climate-related disasters of 2023, the new WMO report says, “Extreme weather and climate events had major socio-economic impacts on all inhabited continents.”

Climate Centre science lead Liz Stephens said today: “These record temperatures over sea and land are in line with what we expect from an El Niño event on top of the long-term signal of climate change.

“Like the heatwave currently being experienced in South Sudan, we expect further temperature extremes as the influence of this El Niño continues to be felt around the world.”

All schools have been ordered to close in South Sudan with temperatures there already going above 40°C and liable to reach an exceptional 45°C, the BBC reported from Juba.

Children have been told to stay home from school and some heat-related deaths have been reported as power cuts shut down electric fans.

The current dzud in Mongolia (pictured) is said to be “already twice as critical as last year’s” and potentially far worse than the record 2010 event. (Photo: MRCS via IFRC)