World Climate Conference: 2023 is the year of climate records: Extreme is the new normal

Extreme heat.

World Climate Conference: 2023 is the year of climate records: Extreme is the new normal

Extreme heat. Extreme rain. Extreme storms. In 2023, the climate crisis has been felt all over the world. Millions of people were affected in Central Europe and the Mediterranean alone: ​​in July it was almost 50 degrees in Sardinia, and in August there were devastating forest fires in Greece. In September, a terrible heavy rain disaster struck Libya with thousands of deaths.

The weather was also extreme in the rest of the world: devastating rain caused unprecedented flooding in Brazil in February, and in February and March Cyclone Freddy raged in the Indian Ocean for 37 days, longer than any other recorded cyclone before. It caused severe devastation in Madagascar and Mozambique. From April there was record heat from India to China, in June and July there was severe flooding in Pakistan, and in October the Mexican holiday resort of Acapulco was partially destroyed by a hurricane that came almost out of nowhere. Extreme weather has always existed, but science has shown that such events are becoming more frequent and severe due to climate change.

The World Weather Organization (WMO) is also alarmed. She wants to present her preliminary report on the state of the world climate at the start of the World Climate Conference this Thursday (November 30th) in Dubai.

In Germany, the summer of 2023 felt like a mixed bag for many people, but the unstable weather and rain in this country do not change the fact that it was far too warm. It is virtually certain that, in terms of global average temperature, 2023 was the hottest year since the beginning of industrialization (1850-1900). Possibly even for tens of thousands of years. Of course, there were no measurements back then, but science can draw conclusions about the climate in ancient times by analyzing ancient air bubbles deep in the ice.

“Actually, we in Europe have felt like we are in a state of emergency since the hot summer of 2018,” says Helge Gößling, climate physicist at the Alfred Wegener Institute in Bremerhaven, to the German Press Agency. Among other things, he mentions several unusually dry and warm summers and the heavy rain in the Ahr Valley. “But we have to expect that we are in the new normal.” For him it is clear that climate change is a serious threat to humanity.

According to data from the German Weather Service in 2018, 2019, 2020 and 2022, the average temperature in Germany was already more than 2.5 above the level in 1881, when systematic weather records began. This is significantly more than the global average. This is because the global value includes temperatures over ocean surfaces, which have so far risen less sharply than over land. Globally, the warmest year so far was 2016, with plus 1.3 degrees compared to pre-industrial levels (1850-1900).

“From a regional perspective, we in Central Europe are getting off relatively lightly when it comes to climate change,” says Gößling. In the Mediterranean region the situation is already more precarious with heat and drought. “You can’t make light of the situation here,” warns Gößling. The head of the World Weather Organization (WMO), Petteri Taalas, refers to the dry summers and the devastating flooding in the Ahr Valley in 2021. “Such events are becoming more frequent and they will also affect Germany,” he tells the dpa. “In addition, there is migration pressure from Africa, where the challenges are much greater.”

The bad news: More extreme events are inevitable for decades to come - even if greenhouse gas emissions are reduced quickly. “The negative trend will continue into the 2060s,” says Taalas. This is due to the greenhouse gases that have already been emitted and remain in the atmosphere for so long. “And we’ve already lost the battle with the mountain glaciers,” he says. "We expect them to be completely melted by the end of the century." The harmful greenhouse gas emissions must now urgently be reduced so that today's children and their descendants can experience a better climate from the 2060s onwards.

The end of climate-damaging fossil energy – coal, oil, gas – is the greatest lever against climate change. But the other big lever, the handling of land, is underestimated, says Gößling. "It's crazy that 75 percent of the world's agricultural land is used either as pasture or to grow feed crops for animals," he said. More plant-based food requires less space for the same amount of protein and calories. Forests can absorb more CO2 than pastures. “In addition to a significantly better climate balance, a return to more natural areas would also have the extremely important effect of helping significantly against the loss of biodiversity.”

If, as hoped, the countries in Dubai impose significantly stronger climate protection measures, Taalas sees a different world in the best case scenario in the 2030s: "Then we will no longer use coal as an energy source, the majority of cars worldwide will be electric, we will use more public transport, We eat less meat and rice, which cause large methane emissions, we stop the deforestation of tropical rainforests and accelerate the transfer of technology that enables emerging countries to grow in a climate-neutral manner."

No one can yet predict whether next summer in Germany will be hot or dry. Globally, however, it could be even warmer than this year. “I estimate the chances to be 50:50,” says Gößling. This is due to the El Niño weather phenomenon that began this year. It heats up the Pacific every few years and increases the global average temperature by around 0.2 degrees. As a rule, this only becomes apparent in the year after it occurs, which would then be 2024.

But this time it could be different. In 2023 there were random fluctuations in the weather in spring, says Gößling. Weak trade winds led to strong warming of the sea surface, especially in the North Atlantic, which significantly increased the global average temperature. "The weak trade winds don't necessarily have anything to do with climate change," he says. It is therefore not certain that the Atlantic will be as warm again in 2024 as it was in 2023.