State of the Global Climate 2023

Anna Triponel

April 5, 2024
Our key takeaway: 2023 was a year of records, but not ones anyone would want to replicate. Temperatures on land and in the ocean smashed existing highs; melting ice led to unprecedented sea-level rise and glacier loss; and extreme weather like floods, droughts, heatwaves, wildfires and storms impacted millions of people and kneecapped economies on every continent. The people who were hit hardest were those already most vulnerable to social and economic shocks, including groups like women and girls, farmers and pastoralists, and people displaced by conflict. Poverty, food insecurity and conflict were both caused by and intensified by climate change and extreme weather—and are likely to exacerbate climate impacts in turn, creating a vicious cycle. The window of time for prevention may still be open by a sliver according to scientists, but deep investments in climate mitigation and remediation are now called for to tackle the “multicausal” roots of serious human rights impacts and environmental risks. The report closes with a call to action to urgently scale the quantity and quality of climate finance, with a focus on the sectors where least financing for mitigation and adaptation has been seen to date, like agriculture and industry. Who ever said climate change impacts on people are going to happen in the future? They are already happening, and they will get significantly worse - unless we all commit to taking ambitious and bold action now.

The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) published State of the Global Climate 2023 (April 2024):

  • A year of record highs: According to the report, 2023 marked multiple new records for global warming across the globe. Global temperatures reached unprecedented levels, with temperatures reaching 1.45 (give or take 0.12 °C) above the pre-industrial average. This continued a trend, as 2015 to 2023 were the 9 warmest years on record. Concentrations of carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide, the main greenhouse gases, also reached record highs. Oceans warmed significantly, with the heat content hitting the highest level since recording started 65 years ago. Simultaneously, global mean sea levels surged to unprecedented heights, with the rate of sea level rise doubling over the past decade compared to the first decade of satellite recordings from 1993 to 2002. At the same time, Antarctic sea ice dropped to a historic low in February 2023 and glaciers experienced significant ice loss, with preliminary data indicating the largest loss on record from 1950 to 2023, primarily driven by negative mass balances in western North America and Europe. In Switzerland alone, glaciers lost approximately 10% of their remaining volume over the past two years.
  • Deadly and destructive extreme weather: The report found that “[e]xtreme weather and climate events had major impacts on all inhabited continents in 2023.” The year saw deadly and destructive wildfires in Hawaii, Canada and Europe that also caused air pollution far beyond the boundaries of the fires. Extreme heat occurred in southern Europe and North Africa, including in places not typically hit by temperature extremes, leading to health risks. The WMO reports that both flooding and droughts were beyond averages in countries across the globe, impacting farmers and pastoralists. There was flooding linked to extreme rainfall in Greece, Bulgaria, Türkiye, and Libya, with an especially high death toll in Libya. Some countries that experienced significant drought were then hit by high rainfall, causing flooding and mudslides. For example, in Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya at least 352 people died due to flooding, and severe flooding displaced 1.8 million people across Ethiopia, Burundi, South Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, Somalia and Kenya. This figure added to the 3 million people displaced internally and internationally by 5 consecutive seasons of drought in Ethiopia, Kenya, Djibouti, and Somalia.
  • Vulnerability pushed to the limits: Food insecurity and displacement were exacerbated by climate change and extreme weather, with the most significant impacts on vulnerable populations. In the 78 countries monitored by the World Food Programme, the number of people who are severely food insecure more than doubled since before COVID-19, from 149 million people pre-pandemic to 333 million people in 2023. The WMO highlights the nexus of climate impacts and socioeconomic challenges: “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.” Climate-related shocks also spurred an increase in internally displaced persons, refugees and migrants, who faced increased “multicausal" vulnerability from displacement, economic loss, poverty and conflict. For example, in Somalia half a million people were displaced due to ongoing drought, in addition to more than 650,000 people who were displaced due to conflict. Subsequent flooding then displaced more than a million people, leading to a social and economic crisis. Vulnerable groups, like women and girls, tend to be hardest hit by multicausal crises due to preexisting inequalities and entrenched inequality.

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