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5 Insights from the State of the Climate Report 2023: Record-breaking Climate Trends and Urgent Calls for Action

The state of the climate in 2023 gave ominous new significance to the phrase “off the charts”, new WMO report finds.

The latest global report released by the UN weather agency (or World Meteorological Organization - WMO) reveals that once more, records have been shattered for greenhouse gas levels, surface temperatures, ocean heat and acidification, sea level rise, ice cover and glacier retreat. Similar to the findings of the most recent Interconnected Disaster Risks (IDR) report, key results of the WMO report are reason to sound the alarm, as extreme events like heatwaves, floods, droughts and wildfires are becoming more and more frequent. Here are five insights on how climate change indicators reached record levels in 2023, threatening the world as we know it:

  1. Record-breaking heat trends continued throughout 2023

    With records broken on many levels and the global average near-surface temperature at 1.45 °Celsius above the pre-industrial baseline, 2023 was not only the warmest year on record. It was also part of the warmest ten-year period on record. According to WMO, on an average day in 2023, close to one third of the global oceans were affected by a marine heatwave. By the end of the year, over 90 per cent of the ocean encountered heatwave conditions at some stage.

  2. Glaciers suffered the largest loss of ice on record 

    Since 1950 and driven by extreme melt in both Western North America and Europe, glaciers have never lost as much ice as in 2023. Losing mountain glaciers represents a risk tipping point, as losing this freshwater source will impact entire regions, a case study of the IDR argues. Meltwater from glaciers and snow supplies water for drinking, irrigation and hydropower. When glacier melt increases, so does the risk of downstream flooding. However, once the maximum volume of water run-off is reached, known as "peak water,” freshwater availability gradually diminishes, with impacts for entire river basins.

  3. Extreme weather undermines socioeconomic development  

    In today’s interconnected world, the impacts of the ramped-up frequency and strength of extreme weather events are felt globally. However, climate shocks particularly undermine the resilience of the most vulnerable people and increasingly expose them to risk. Consequently, global food insecurity has doubled and weather and climate extremes are at the root of displacement, biodiversity loss and health issues. Therefore, systemic solutions are needed that also include the most vulnerable groups such as informal workers or people living in poverty.

  4. Renewable energy transition provides hope 

    In achieving decarbonization targets, the generation of renewable energy has taken the centre stage for taking climate action. In 2023, there was a nearly 50 per cent surge in new renewable capacity additions compared to 2022. Reaching a total of 510 gigawatts, it marks the highest growth rate in the last two decades and indicates that a worldwide energy transition is underway. Making this change smooth for people employed in or depending on the related industries is at the core of just transition initiatives underway in many countries, such as South Africa or Indonesia.

  5. The cost of climate inaction is higher than the cost of climate action 

    In 2021/2022, global climate-related finance nearly doubled in comparison to 2019/2020, to almost $1.3 trillion, the WMO report found. However, this represents only about 1 per cent of global GDP. And the stakes of inaction are higher: over the period from 2025 to 2100, the cumulative cost of inaction is estimated at $1,266 trillion, which likely still is an underestimated number.

 

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