2023 shattered heat records. Why that could become the ‘new normal’

Click to play video: '2023 smashes record for world’s hottest year'
2023 smashes record for world’s hottest year
WATCH: 2023 smashes record for world's hottest year – Jan 9, 2024

Extreme weather events from raging wildfires to scorching summer heat waves made 2023 the hottest year on record, according to a new report, and experts warn that could be the “new normal.”

Last year, the global average temperature was 14.98 C – the highest ever recorded since data collection began in 1850, European climate agency Copernicus said in its annual report Tuesday.

The previous warmest year was 2016, when the average temperature recorded globally was 14.81 C.

“(Last year) was an exceptional year with climate records tumbling like dominoes,” Samantha Burgess, deputy director of the Copernicus Climate Change Service, said in a statement.

“Temperatures during 2023 likely exceed those of any period in at least the last 100,000 years.”

Click to play video: '‘Not good for the planet’: 2023 on track to be the warmest year on record'
‘Not good for the planet’: 2023 on track to be the warmest year on record

Each month from June to December was warmer than any previous year. July and August 2023 were the hottest months ever recorded globally.

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For the first time on record, temperatures exceeded 1 C above the 1850-1900 pre-industrial level on all days in 2023. Roughly half of the year saw global daily temperature anomalies of 1.5 degrees above the pre-industrial level.

The 2015 Paris climate agreement has set the goal of limiting temperature increase to 1.5 C (2.7 F) above pre-industrial levels.

For the whole year, 2023 was 1.48 C warmer than pre-industrial level. But a 12-month period ending in January or February 2024 could likely see a number surpassing 1.5 C, the agency said.

Click to play video: 'Earth breaches critical warming threshold'
Earth breaches critical warming threshold

Going above 1.5 degrees even for a year is something that wasn’t expected until 2030, said Kent Moore, professor of physics at the University of Toronto Mississauga.

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“We’re seeing an accelerated warming and I think that’s really the concern,” he told Global News in an interview.

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Moore said it was surprising to see the scale of the warmth that was sustained throughout the  year, adding that the extreme weather events seen in 2023 could become the “norm rather than the exception.”

“We have very little time to get our emissions under control and if we don’t do that, then this will become the new normal moving forward.”

Will 2024 be hotter?

Greenhouse gas emissions, which reached the highest concentration levels ever recorded in 2023, and the El Niño climate pattern were the main factors, experts say, that led to 2023 becoming so hot.

During El Niño years, trade winds weaken and the Pacific Ocean tends to release more heat into the atmosphere, making areas in the northern U.S. and Canada drier and warmer than usual.

El Niño typically has the “largest influence” on global temperature after it peaks in the winter, said Megan Kirchmeier-Young, a research scientist with Environment and Climate Change Canada.

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“So, there is a good chance for record warm conditions again in 2024,” she told Global News in an interview.

Given the level of greenhouse gas emissions, a warm year like 2023 is more likely now than it was several decades ago and if we continue at this pace, the extreme temperatures seen last year will become more common in the future, Kirchmeier-Young said.

Click to play video: '2023-2024 winter weather forecast: Here’s what Canadians can expect'
2023-2024 winter weather forecast: Here’s what Canadians can expect

The Copernicus report said global average sea surface temperatures “remained persistently and unusually high, reaching record levels for the time of year from April through December.”

“I think moving forward, we’re going to see more of these marine heat waves and also impacts then on the land due to the very extreme warmth that’s now in the ocean,” Moore said.

Amid the record heat, Canada experienced its worst wildfire season last year, burning an unprecedented 18.5 million hectares of land.

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Because of that, Canada was responsible for roughly 23 per cent of global wildfire carbon emissions in 2023, Copernicus said in another report published last month.

“The seasonal forecasts are for above-normal temperatures, below-normal snowpack – and I think that is a reason for concern as we’re looking ahead to the 2024 wildfire season,” Kirchmeier-Young said.

Moore said this latest report is a “wake-up call” for countries to take note and act on controlling their greenhouse gas emissions.

“I think we need to continue pushing for renewables, pushing for electric vehicles and maintaining the carbon tax as a way to constrain emissions,” he said.

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