The Toll of Record Breaking Global Temperatures

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    Stockholm (NordSIP) – As happened in previous summers, the beginning of July saw global temperatures break new records. Measures vary, but sometime between July 4th and July 7th, planet Earth reached a new level for the highest average temperature on record.

    In Europe, the Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S), reported that the daily global average temperature had reached 17.03°C on July 4th, based on information from its ERA5 hourly data set. Across the pond, the U.S. National Centers for Environmental Prediction noted that “observed temperatures” had reached 17.23°C, their highest level on record. We may argue about the date, but this is clearly the warmest the planet has ever been since we started to keep records.

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    Warmest July Follows Warmest June

    C3S, implemented by the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts on behalf of the European Commission with funding from the EU, warned that June 2023 witnessed higher sea surface temperatures than any previous June on record. According to C3S, exceptionally warm sea surface temperature anomalies were recorded in the North Atlantic, due to a combination of short-term anomalous circulation in the atmosphere and longer-term changes in the ocean.

    “These exceptional conditions in the north Atlantic highlight the complexity of the Earth system, and remind us of the importance of monitoring the global climate in near real time. The interplay between local and global variability alongside the climate trends is essential to better manage risks and design efficient adaptation policies,” says Carlo Buontempo, Director of C3S.

    “The exceptional warmth in June and at the start of July occurred at the onset of the development of El Niño, which is expected to further fuel the heat both on land and in the oceans and lead to more extreme temperatures and marine heatwaves,” said¹ Prof. Christopher Hewitt, Director of Climate Services at the World Metereological Organization (WMO). “We are in uncharted territory and we can expect more records to fall as El Niño develops further and these impacts will extend into 2024,” he said. “This is worrying news for the planet,” he said.

    Implications – Agriculture and Health

    These records are not abstract realities or merely sweaty days. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), climate change can reduce agricultural productivity due to projected increases in temperatures, changes in precipitation patterns, changes in extreme weather events, and reductions in water availability may all result in reduced agricultural productivity.

    A 2021 study led by economist Ariel Ortiz-Bobea, associate professor in the Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management at Cornell University, found “that climate change has basically wiped out about seven years of improvements in agricultural productivity over the past 60 years.” According to Ortiz-Bobea climate change has had the same effect as “pressing the pause button on productivity growth back in 2013 and experiencing no improvements since then. Anthropogenic climate change is already slowing us down.”

    Summer heatwaves are also deadly. A recent study published in the magazine Nature, estimated that 61,672 people died heat-related deaths in Europe between 30 May and 4 September 2022, with Italy, Greece, Spain and Portugal suffering the highest heat-related mortality rates. “The summer of 2022 was the hottest season on record in Europe, characterized by an intense series of heat waves, which led to extremes in terms of temperature, drought and fire activity,” the authors comment.

    This tragic consequence of climate change is made worse by its cruelty. According to the researchers, heatwaves and the increased risk of death they carry disproportionately affect older adults with preexisting cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, women and socially isolated or socioeconomically disadvantaged individuals.

    At a time of geopolitical instability and rising inflation, a climate change-fuelled hotter 2023 summer is likely to see the year resulting in more agricultural devastation and a higher death toll.

    ¹ Note: As of 10/04/2024, the original report is no longer available on the website of the World Meteorological Organization, as was originally the case. It appears that the WMO public website was relaunched in November 2023, causing some pages to no longer exist. NordSIP was informed that  “this data has been removed from the primary domain. The content has been restored and the page is now available” on the new linked website, which is however not hosted by the WMO. To the best of our understanding, the content on the new URL is the same as when the WMO report was originally published.
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