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Greenhouse gases continue to rise as warming hits record

November 30, 2023

As countries meet in Dubai to negotiate emissions reductions at key UN climate talks, the world is heating up faster than ever. Without further cuts, warming is set to continue.

A man walks with a camel carrying his goods in an area 30 kilometers from the city of Gode, Ethiopia
People in places like Ethiopia are increasingly feeling the effects of climate changeImage: AFP

2023 will be the hottest year on record, according to the latest report from the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). 

The average temperature so far this year was 1.4 degrees Celsius (2.5 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels, far surpassing the previous record of 1.29 degrees Celsius in 2016, according to the WMO Provisional State of the Global Climate 2023.

The report was released at the start of the COP28 climate negotiations in Dubai, where negotiators are hoping to keep the 1.5-degree Paris target alive.

Yearly temperatures can go up and down due to natural variation, but the past 10 years have averaged about 1.2 degrees above pre-industrial levels. 

The planet is heating up as a result of humans burning fossil fuels that emit large amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

Climate records being shattered

The annual report assessed many aspects of the climate, but John Kennedy, an independent climate consultant who was the scientific coordinator of the report, said the rapid rise of sea-surface temperatures was worrying.

"We're transitioning from La Nina to El Nino, so we'd expect global temperatures to rise a little bit, but the rates at which they rose took a lot of people by surprise," Kennedy told DW.

"The margins by which those records were being broken were themselves records."

Kennedy said Antarctic sea ice levels had also dropped by an extraordinary amount this year.

Now or never: How can we still save the climate?

WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas said the report revealed the troubling state of the climate. 

"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," he said. 

"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."

The report is one of several to have found 2023 to be the hottest on record so far.

Emissions continue 

Despite global pledges to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the WMO observed record high concentrations of the three main greenhouse gases — carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide — in 2022, and they continued to rise in 2023. 

Greenhouse gases trap warmth in the Earth's climate system, increasing temperatures and playing havoc with weather systems.

Hotter temperatures melt ice in the Arctic and Antarctic, leading to rising sea levels. The WMO found they had risen to a record high in 2023, endangering low-lying coastal countries.

Extreme weather buffets global population

All inhabited continents were hit with extreme weather and climate events this year, the WMO found. This included major floods, storms, extreme heat, drought, and wildfires, which impacted water and food security as well as human welfare.

The greatest loss of life was recorded in Libya, where the torrential rainfall dropped by   Mediterranean cyclone known as Storm Daniel caused two dams to burst. At least 4,000 people and probably many more were killed in the event, which was made 50 times more likely to occur due to climate change, according to attribution scientists at the UK-based academic initiative, World Weather Attribution.

Debris, dead bodies clutter flood-hit Libyan port

Mozambique and Malawi suffered hundreds of deaths from cyclone-caused floods in March, while millions of people were displaced by a cyclone in Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Myanmar and India in May.

Many of the extreme weather events have been categorically linked to climate change by World Weather Attribution scientists .

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has called on world leaders to act quickly to reduce climate-wrecking emissions.

"We are living through climate collapse in real time — and the impact is devastating," Guterres said in a video released on Thursday alongside the WMO report. "Record global heating should send shivers down the spines of world leaders. And it should trigger them to act." 

"We have the road map to limit the rise in global temperature to 1.5 degrees Celsius and avoid the worst of climate chaos."

Renewables revolution

Delegates gather for COP28

Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates, is hosting world leaders alongside hundreds of thousands of stakeholders for the latest round of climate talks.

Among other things, negotiations will focus on the contentious issues of phasing out fossil fuels to reduce emissions and a global fund to help poorer countries cope with climate damages.

According to the United Nations Environment Program, the world is on track for up to 2.9 degrees Celsius of warming as greenhouse gases keep rising, requiring even more ambitious cuts from the world.

Edited by: Tamsin Walker