As Canadians grapple with the most severe wildfire season in the country ever, exacerbated by unprecedented heat waves worldwide, recent findings from the European Union-funded Copernicus Climate Change Service reveal that June, July and August were the warmest months on record globally by a large margin.
According to the data, the global average temperature for this summer reached 16.77 degrees Celsius, surpassing the average summer temperature between 1991 and 2020 by 0.66 C. This increase exceeds the previous record, established in August 2019, by nearly 0.3 C.
July 2023 was the warmest month ever recorded on a global scale, according to Copernicus, with a global average temperature of 16.95 C, 0.33 C higher than the previous record set in 2019.
And the second hottest month on record is now August 2023, which saw a global-mean surface air temperature of 16.82 C, making it 0.71 C warmer than the August average for the period from 1991 to 2020. This temperature also surpassed the previous record, set in August 2016, by 0.31 C.
Data highlights that the conditions throughout the year were far from ideal as the global temperature anomaly for the first eight months of 2023 — January to August — stands as the second warmest on record. It lags behind 2016, which holds the title for the warmest year on record, by a mere 0.01 C.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres issued a stark warning Wednesday in response to the alarming statistics.
“The dog days of summer are not just barking, they are biting,” Guterres said.
“Our planet has just endured a season of simmering — the hottest summer on record. Climate breakdown has begun.”
WHICH REGION SUFFERED THE WORST HEAT WAVES THIS SUMMER?
Heat waves were widespread across various regions of the Northern Hemisphere, impacting areas such as southern Europe, the southern United States and Japan.
Australia, as well as several South American countries, and extensive areas around Antarctica, experienced well-above-average temperatures, according to the data from Copernicus.
Summer 2023 saw marine heatwaves in several areas around Europe, including around Ireland and the U.K. in June, and across the Mediterranean in July and August.
On the other hand, Iceland, the Alpine arc, northern Scandinavia, central Europe, large parts of Asia, Canada, southern North America, and most of South America witnessed drier-than-average conditions.
In several of these regions, the prolonged dry spells resulted in significant wildfires, further exacerbating the global environmental challenges posed by the changing climate.
Canada is currently experiencing its worst wildfire season ever. So far this year, the country has reported more than 6,147 forest fires, which have burned roughly 166,000 square kilometres, according to the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre.
AUGUST BREAKS GLOBAL SEA SURFACE TEMPERATURE RECORD
In addition to land temperatures, the data also underscores alarming trends in sea surface temperatures, with global sea surface temperatures reaching unprecedented highs for the third consecutive month.
For instance, August as a whole recorded the highest global monthly average sea surface temperatures ever documented across all months, reaching a high of 20.98 C.
Additionally, every day this year from July 31 to Aug. 31 witnessed global average sea surface temperatures surpassing the previous record set in March 2016.
North Atlantic sea surface temperatures also exceeded the previous record of 24.81 C set in Sept. 2022 on Aug. 5, 2023. Since then, they have consistently remained above this level, reaching a new record of 25.19 C by Aug. 31.
Data also shows that the Antarctic sea ice extent remains at a record low for this time of year, with a monthly value 12 per cent below the historical average, marking the largest negative anomaly for August since satellite observations commenced in the late 1970s.
However, the Arctic sea ice extent, while still concerning, was 10 per cent below the average and it remained well above the record minimum observed in August 2012.
In a report released in May, The World Meteorological Organization (WMO), which relies on data from the Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S) and five other international datasets, and the U.K.’s Met Office predicted that there is a 98 per cent likelihood that at least one of the next five years would become the warmest on record, and there was a 66 per cent chance of temporarily exceeding a temperature increase of 1.5 C above the 1850-1900 average for at least one of these five years.
“The northern hemisphere just had a summer of extremes – with repeated heatwaves fuelling devastating wildfires, harming health, disrupting daily lives and wreaking a lasting toll on the environment,” World Meteorological Organization Secretary-General Prof. Petteri Taalas said in a press release.
“In the southern hemisphere, Antarctic sea ice extent was literally off the charts, and the global sea surface temperature was once again at a new record. It is worth noting that this is happening BEFORE we see the full warming impact of the El Niño event, which typically plays out in the second year after it develops”.
Hydrological variables in August 2023 also show concerning patterns.
In his call to action, the UN’s secretary general urged leaders from around the world to take decisive measures.
“Surging temperatures demand a surge in action. Leaders must turn up the heat now for climate solutions. We can still avoid the worst of climate chaos — and we don’t have a moment to lose,” Guterres said.
Reporting for this story was paid for through The Afghan Journalists in Residence Project funded by Meta.