As the scorching month of July reaches its end, the world is confronting an unprecedented environmental challenge: July 2023 is now unequivocally the hottest month on record, and scientists believe it may be the warmest the Earth has experienced in approximately 120,000 years.
Vast regions across North America, Europe, and Asia are grappling with blistering temperatures, while the world’s oceans are heating to unprecedented levels. Two global climate authorities, the European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S) and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), have declared that this month’s extreme heat is breaking records by a substantial margin, raising alarm bells about the accelerating impact of climate change.
The escalating temperatures in July come on the heels of other alarming climatic events earlier in the year. June was declared the hottest June on record, and July witnessed the hottest day ever recorded on July 6th. They Earth’s average near-surface global temperature has been temporarily breaking the key 1.5˚C limit.
According to Russell Vose, climate analysis group director for the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, temperature records are typically broken by increments of hundredths of a degree Celsius, but this July has been different. For the first 23 days, the average air temperature soared to 16.95 degrees Celsius, significantly surpassing the previous 16.63˚C record set in July 2019. According to the report, this is not a minor fluctuation; rather, it is a monumental shift that aligns with the global consensus that human-induced climate change is pushing our planet to its limits.
“We are seven months into 2023 and almost every month this year has been in the top five hottest on record”, said Samantha Burgess, deputy director at Copernicus.”These are the hottest temperatures in human history”, she added.
Climate data extracted from tree rings, coral reefs, and deep-sea sediment cores further supports this assertion. While records of air temperature date back to 1940, evidence from these natural archives provides valuable insights into our planet’s climate history, suggesting that the Earth has not experienced such warmth in approximately 120,000 years.
Unless an ice age were to appear all of sudden out of nothing, it is basically virtually certain we will break the record for the warmest July on record and the warmest month on record.Carlo Buontempo, Copernicus Climate Change Service Director
The consequences of this extreme heat are far-reaching and devastating. In the United States, an oppressive heatwave has gripped the Southwest, with temperatures exceeding 50 degrees Celsius. As a result, heat-related deaths have surged, and people are suffering life-threatening burns from contact with scorching surfaces. Pushing into most of the Midwest and East, the heatwave is leaving more than 128 million Americans under heat advisory.
The Mediterranean region has witnessed over 40 deaths as wildfires continue to rage, fueled by the high temperatures and dry conditions. Similarly, Asia is experiencing prolonged and intense heatwaves, leading to loss of life and posing a serious threat to food security.
According to Petteri Taalas, secretary-general of the WMO, July’s extreme weather reflets “the harsh reality of climate change”. While the natural climate phenomenon El Niño can contribute to warming, scientists assert that it has not played a significant role in the current temperatures, but it probably will next year, according to Burgess. Instead, the extreme heat is primarily a result of human activities, including the extraction and burning of fossil fuels, deforestation, and industrial processes, have significantly increased the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. This, in turn, traps more heat, leading to a rise in global temperatures. A recent study examining heatwaves in the United States, China, and southern Europe found that climate change played a dominant role in their occurrence this summer.
Greenhouse gas emissions have continued to rise, despite years of international climate negotiations and ambitious pledges from various countries and companies. United Nations Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres highlighted the urgency of the situation and asked global leaders to take more substantial action in reducing emissions of heat-trapping gases. “Climate action is not a luxury but a must”, he said.
Climate change is here. It is terrifying. And it is just the beginning. The era of global warming has ended; the era of global boiling has arrived.António Guterres, United Nations Secretary-General
The repercussions of such scorching heat go far beyond prolonged heatwaves, posing a substantial risk to human lives and the environment. Scientists point to a host of climate changes that are increasingly affecting the planet, including more frequent and severe flooding, longer-lasting wildfires, and extreme weather events. The implications of these alterations are vast and demand immediate attention from world leaders and policymakers.
The consequences of this unprecedented heat are evident not only in the atmosphere but also in our oceans. Global ocean surface temperatures have reached “unprecedented levels” for this time of year, according to reports from mid-May. The implications of such warming are profound, affecting marine ecosystems, weather patterns, and sea levels.
Carlo Buontempo, the director of Copernicus, commented on the record-breaking temperatures, saying, “The last few weeks have been rather remarkable and unprecedented in our record”. The swift and alarming rise in temperatures caught many scientists by surprise, especially considering the significant loss of sea ice in Antarctica and the spike in ocean temperatures in the Atlantic, far from the influence of El Niño.
“It is scary to remember that in another decade, this will be viewed as a relatively cool year, most likely,” said Kim Cobb, a climate scientist at Brown University.