Climate change: ‘Extreme weather is daily destroying lives and livelihoods’, says global body

We risk losing the race to save our glaciers and to rein in sea level rise, World Meteorological Organisation report warns

The year 2023 has seen climate records shattered and extreme weather events leaving a trail of devastation and despair, according to the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO).

Its provisional annual state-of-the-global-climate report released at Cop28 on Thursday confirms the scale of global temperature increases up to end of October is such that it is already “virtually certain” this year will be the warmest on record.

Temperature data up to end of October shows a global average of 1.4 degrees above the pre-industrial 1850-1900 baseline – and close to the critical Paris Agreement target of limiting warming to a 1.5 degree limit.

The past nine years were the warmest on record with temperatures this year exacerbated by a natural El Niño event emerging during spring in the northern hemisphere that developed rapidly during summer.


“It is likely to further fuel the heat in 2024 because El Niño typically has the greatest impact on global temperatures after it peaks,” the WMO report warns.

“Greenhouse gas levels are record high. Global temperatures are record high. Sea level rise is record high. Antarctic sea ice is record low. It’s a deafening cacophony of broken records,” said WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas.

“These are more than just statistics. We risk losing the race to save our glaciers and to rein in sea level rise. We cannot return to the climate of the 20th century, but we must act now to limit the risks of an increasingly inhospitable climate in this and the coming centuries,” he said.

“Extreme weather is destroying lives and livelihoods on a daily basis – underlining the imperative need to ensure that everyone is protected by early warning services,” Prof Taalas added.

“This year we have seen communities around the world pounded by fires, floods and searing temperatures. Record global heat should send shivers down the spines of world leaders,” said UN secretary general António Guterres.


Urging them to commit to urgent action at Cop28, he added: “We have the roadmap to limit the rise in global temperature to 1.5 degrees and avoid the worst of climate chaos. But we need leaders to fire the starting gun at Cop28 on a race to keep the 1.5 degree limit alive.”

The should be done by setting clear expectations for the next round of climate-action plans and committing to partnerships and finance to make them possible, Mr Guterres said. This required “committing to triple renewables and double energy efficiency, and committing to phase out fossil fuels, with a clear time frame aligned to the 1.5-degree limit”.

Carbon dioxide levels trapping heat in the atmosphere are 50 per cent higher than the pre-industrial era. “The long lifetime of CO2 means temperatures will continue to rise for many years to come,” the WMO says.

The rate of sea level rise from 2013 to 2022 is more than twice the rate of the first decade of satellite records (1993-2002) because of continued ocean warming and melting of glaciers and ice sheets. The maximum Antarctic sea-ice extent for the year was the lowest on record, a full one million km2 less than the previous record low – equivalent to more than the size of France and Germany combined.

Glaciers in North America and Europe once again suffered an extreme melt season, while Swiss glaciers have lost about 10 per cent of remaining volume in the past two years, the report finds.

The most positive trend was renewable energy capacity grew by nearly 10 per cent in 2022, led by solar and wind power; a trend continuing this year.


The WMO summary of a turbulent climate year:

Greenhouse gases: Observed concentrations of the three main greenhouse gases – carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide – reached record high levels in 2022. Real-time data show their levels continued to increase in 2023.

Global temperatures: Based on the data to October, it is almost certain that 2023 will be the warmest year in the 174-year observational record, while record monthly global temperatures were observed for the ocean – from April through to October. June, July, August, September and October each surpassed the previous record for the respective month by a wide margin in all data sets used by the WMO.

Sea surface temperatures: Global average sea-surface temperatures were at a record observed high for the time of year, starting in the late northern hemisphere spring. July, August and September temperatures were each broken by a large margin (around 0.21 to 0.27 degrees). This coincided with widespread marine heatwaves.

Sea level rise: In 2023, global mean sea level reached a record high based on satellite records (since 1993), reflecting continued ocean warming as well as melting of glaciers and ice sheets. The rate of global mean sea level rise in the past 10 years (2013–2022) is more than twice the rate of sea level rise in the first decade of the satellite record (1993–2002).

Extreme weather: Extreme weather and climate events had major impacts on all inhabited continents. These included major floods, tropical cyclones, extreme heat and drought, and associated wildfires.

Record temperatures affected many parts of the world, notably in southern Europe and North Africa, especially in the second half of July where severe and exceptionally persistent heat occurred. Temperatures in Italy reached 48.2 degrees, and record-high temperatures were reported in Tunis (Tunisia) 49 degrees, Agadir (Morocco) 50.4 degrees and Algiers (Algeria) 49.2 degrees.

Canada’s wildfire season was well beyond any previously recorded.

Five consecutive seasons of drought in the Greater Horn of Africa was followed by floods, triggering even more displacements.

Long-term drought intensified in many parts of Central America and South America. In northern Argentina and Uruguay, rainfall from January to August was 20 to 50 per cent below average, leading to crop losses and low water storage levels.

Socio-economic impacts: Weather and climate hazards exacerbated challenges with food security, population displacements and impacts on vulnerable populations. “They continued to trigger new, prolonged, and secondary displacement and increased the vulnerability of many who were already uprooted by complex multi-causal situations of conflict and violence.”

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan is Environment and Science Editor and former editor of The Irish Times