2023: Hottest Year in 100,000 Years, A Human Warning

The year 2023 was the hottest year on record by a large margin, providing “dramatic testimony” of how far we now are from the climate in which our civilisation developed. The average temperature in 2023 was 0.17°C higher than in 2016, the previous record year, marking a very large increase in climate terms. The primary cause of this increased global heating was continued record emissions of carbon dioxide, assisted by the return of the natural climate phenomenon El Niño. The amount of CO2 in the atmosphere this year was forecast to be 419.2 parts per million (ppm), according to the Mauna Loa observatory in Hawaii. The last time CO2 levels exceeded 400ppm was around four million years ago, during the Pliocene era, when global temperatures were 2-4°C warmer and sea levels were 10-25m higher than today.

Impacts of the Hottest Year

The high temperatures drove heatwaves, floods and wildfires, damaging lives and livelihoods across the world. Analysis showed some extreme weather, such as heatwaves in Europe and the US, would have been virtually impossible without human-caused global heating. The CCCS data also showed that 2023 was the first year on record when every day was at least 1°C warmer than the 1850-1900 pre-industrial record. Almost half the days were 1.5°C hotter and, for the first time, two days were more than 2°C hotter. The year 2023 also saw a total of 28 countries experiencing their warmest year on record, including the UK, Germany and China. Forests worldwide shrank at an alarming rate due to deforestation and wildfires, reducing their ability to absorb carbon and releasing more emissions into the atmosphere. The Arctic sea ice reached its lowest extent ever recorded in September 2023, while Antarctica lost more ice mass than any previous year.

Urgent Need for Action

Scientists at the EU’s Copernicus Climate Change Service (CCCS) said it was likely the 1.5°C mark will be passed for the first time in the next 12 months. This has profound consequences for the Paris agreement and all human endeavours. If we want to successfully manage our climate risk, we need to urgently decarbonise our economy whilst using climate data and knowledge to prepare for the future. Scientists said recently that the Earth’s life support systems have been so damaged that the planet was “well outside the safe operating space for humanity”. The UN’s climate science body warned that removing CO2 from the atmosphere is essential because even big emissions’ cuts won’t be enough to limit global warming. However, technologies to capture and store CO2 are still emerging, very expensive and as yet unproven. Planting more trees and protecting carbon-absorbing ecosystems is one of the most effective ways of scaling up carbon capture, but forests worldwide are shrinking at an alarming rate.


The year 2023 was a hottest year, with climate records tumbling like dominoes. Temperatures during 2023 likely exceed those of any period in at least the last 100,000 years. This is a clear warning sign that we are running out of time to prevent catastrophic climate change. We need to act now to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and transition to a clean and renewable energy system. Climate-related risks dominate the World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report 2023 , with failure to mitigate climate change perceived as the biggest number risk facing the world over the next 10 years. Natural disasters, extreme weather events, biodiversity loss and ecosystem collapse are also top concerns. The biggest gains in well-being can be achieved by prioritizing climate risk reduction for low-income and marginalized communities.

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