July was the hottest month ever recorded on Earth with abnormally high temperatures recorded on both land and sea, the European Union’s climate observatory confirmed, warning of dire consequences for the planet.
Marked by heatwaves and fires all around the world, the previous month was 0.33 degrees Celsius (0.59 degrees Fahrenheit) higher than the record set in July 2019 when the average temperature was 16.63C (32F), it said.
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“It has not been this warm, combining observational records and paleoclimate records, for the last 120,000 years,” said Samantha Burgess, deputy director of the EU’s Copernicus Climate Change Service.
“The global average temperature for July 2023 is confirmed to be the highest on record for any month – the month is estimated to have been around 1.5 degrees [Celsius; 2.7F] warmer than the average for 1850 to 1900,” said Burgess.
July was 0.72C (1.3F) warmer than the 1991-2020 average for the month. June also smashed through the previous temperature record for that month, according to Copernicus, which bases its calculations on a dataset going back to 1950.
About 1.2 degrees Celsius (2.16F) of global warming since the late 1800s, driven by the burning of fossil fuels, has made heatwaves hotter, longer and more frequent, as well as intensifying other weather extremes such as storms and floods.
“Heatwaves were experienced in multiple regions of the Northern Hemisphere, including southern Europe. Well-above average temperatures occurred over several South American countries and around much of Antarctica,” according to the observatory.
“The global mean for 2023 is the third highest on record, at 0.43C [0.77F]relative to 1991-2020, compared with 0.49C [0.88F] for 2016 and 0.48C [0.86] for 2020. The gap between 2023 and 2016 is expected to narrow in the coming months, as the latter months of 2016 were relatively cool … while the remainder of 2023 is expected to be relatively warm as the current El Nino event develops.”
The previous single-day heat record was set in 2016 and tied in 2022. From July 3, each day has exceeded that record.
The world’s oceans also set a new temperature record, raising concerns about knock-on effects on the planet’s climate, marine life and coastal communities. The temperature of the oceans’ surfaces rose to 20.96 degrees Celsius (69.7 Fahrenheit) on July 30, according to observatory data.
The previous record was 20.95C in March 2016, a spokeswoman for Copernicus Climate Change Service said. The samples tested excluded polar regions.
“We just witnessed global air temperatures and global ocean surface temperatures set new all-time records in July. These records have dire consequences for both people and the planet exposed to ever more frequent and intense extreme events,” said Burgess.
“2023 is currently the third warmest year to date at 0.43C [0.77F] above the recent average, with the average global temperature in July at 1.5C [2.7F] above pre-industrial levels.
“Even if this is only temporary, it shows the urgency for ambitious efforts to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions, which are the main driver behind these records.”
Forest fires have ravaged swaths of Greece and burned 30 million acres (12 million hectares) in Canada, while southern Europe, parts of North Africa, the southwestern United States, Mexico and pockets of China have reeled under a punishing heatwave.
Deadly rains that pummelled China’s capital Beijing in recent days were the heaviest since records began 140 years ago.
“This extreme heat shouldn’t come as a surprise,” said Chris Hewitt, World Meteorological Organization director of climate services.
“[It] really is consistent with what scientists have been predicting for years,” he added, saying the coming year would unlikely bring any respite.
Michael Wysession, a professor of earth and planetary sciences at Washington University in St Louis, said projections look bleak.
“There is now a greater than 50 percent chance that Earth’s global temperature will reach 2.7F [1.5C] above pre-industrial era temperatures by the year 2028, at least temporarily, increasing the risk of triggering climate tipping points with even greater human impacts. Because of the unfortunate timing of several parts of the climate system, it seems the odds are not in our favour,” Wysession said.
UN chief Antonio Guterres recently put out an SOS call.
“Climate change is here. It is terrifying. And it is just the beginning,” said Guterres, urging immediate and bold action to cut planet-heating emissions.
“The era of global warming has ended. The era of global boiling has arrived.”