Hot new year!

new year

While the traditional greeting is “Happy New Year,” this time it may need a significant addition in view of recent historic climate records. 

The greeting may well be: “Happy New Year, despite a hot or even hotter 2024.” 

June 2023 was the hottest June on record globally. July was also the hottest month. The following months—August, September, October and November—were likewise the hottest months. In all, six months in 2023 smashed global temperature records.

For the period January to November 2023, the global average temperature was the highest on record, according to Copernicus Climate Change Service, the European Union’s Earth observation program. It was 1.46°C above the pre-industrial average, and also 0.13°C higher than the 11-month average for 2016, the warmest calendar year on record.

This has prompted the EU’s climate monitor to say in its Dec. 6 news release that 2023 would be the warmest year on record.  It is the warmest globally since record-taking began in the 19th century, dislodging 2016.

In their analysis, the scientists described the global temperature of 2023 “more than 1.4°C warmer than pre-industrial levels.” That’s alarmingly close to the 1.5°C threshold in the Paris climate agreement, “beyond which scientists say humans and ecosystems will struggle to adapt.”

The year saw a number of weather events with devastating impact for people worldwide. These events included intense and extended heat waves in a number of countries, triggering massive wildfires, droughts and floodings.

Euronews said in its yearend report that the extreme heat and dry weather in Europe saw a number of wildfires. In Greece, the wildfires were declared the largest ever seen in the EU, burning an area of around 470,000 acres. 

The record-breaking and devastating wildfire season in Canada had more than 42 million acres burned countrywide. Significant wildfires also affected forests in Russia, Spain, Portugal and Maui in Hawaii.

The World Meteorological Organization (WMO), the United Nations Systems authority on weather, climate and water, reported that the deadliest single wildfire of the year was in Hawaii, with at least 99 deaths reported. It was the deadliest wildfire in the United States in more than 100 years.

According to scientists, El Niño and “heat-trapping greenhouse gases” caused the rising temperatures.

The WMO said in May that in view of El Niño, temperatures are likely to soar and break records over the next five years.

Carlo Buontempo, director of Copernicus Climate Change Service, told Anadolu Agency on Dec. 18 that “the world is in completely uncharted territory and 2023 showed that climate change is happening now.” He added: “With the impact of climate change and El Niño, 2024 is on track to be another record-breaking year.”

Anadolu also quoted Sarah Kapnick, chief scientist at the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, as saying: “The expectation is that next year it will be even warmer.”

The Philippines had torrid summer months in 2023 when the heat index soared to over 40°C and had a recorded high of 50°C in May in Legaspi City. (The heat index is the measure of discomfort an average person experiences due to the combined effects of temperature and air humidity.) A heat index in the range of 42-51°C is classified as “dangerous,” and heat cramps and exhaustion are a likely result. Heat stroke is probable with continued exposure.

The heat index monitored daily by Pagasa (or the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration) shows that while there were surges of cold temperature in December, there were areas in the country with a heat index of above 40°C. 

On Dec. 27, it was 42°C in Puerto Princesa City and in the province of Masbate, and 44°C in Davao City and in Catarman, Northern Samar. Its forecast for Masbate on Jan 1, 2024, is 43°C.

In its El Niño advisory for December 2023, Pagasa says: “A strong El Niño is present in the tropical Pacific and further intensified, nearing its peak in the coming months, as sea surface temperature anomalies have reached more than 1.5°C. Majority of global climate models suggest that El Niño will likely persist until the second quarter of 2024.”

In other words, the heat is on, for worse or worst. 

Minerva Generalao is the former head of the Philippine Daily Inquirer’s Research Department. —Ed.

Read more: Unmasking ‘phantom’ carbon credits in Thailand: A genuine answer to climate change or chimera?

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