Forbes India 15th Anniversary Special

2023 was the world's hottest year. What does it mean for us?

With the EU's recent declaration of 2023 as the world's hottest year, mitigating the increasing global warming is the need of the hour. Here's a lowdown on the causes, repercussions, and possible solutions

Samidha Jain
Published: Jan 10, 2024 03:37:03 PM IST
Updated: Jan 10, 2024 03:57:10 PM IST

2023 was the world's hottest year. What does it mean for us?The EU has stated that, on an average, the Earth experienced a temperature increase of 1.48°C in 2023 compared to the pre-industrial period. Image: Shutterstock

On January 9, the European Union's Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S) confirmed 2023 to be the world’s hottest year in the last 100,000 years. Scientists have highlighted that, since June 2023, every month has been the world's hottest on record compared with the corresponding month in previous years. The EU has stated that, on an average, the Earth experienced a temperature increase of 1.48°C in 2023 compared to the pre-industrial period of 1850-1900—an era marked by the commencement of widespread industrial-scale burning of fossil fuels, leading to the release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

As per C3S, the atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration reached a record high of 419 parts per million in 2023. Despite the widespread adoption of climate targets by governments and companies, global emissions of CO2 from the combustion of coal, oil, and gas also reached unprecedented levels during the same time. In 2023, every single day was hotter by more than 1°C than before the industrial era. And, for the first time ever, two days in November were 2°C warmer than in the old times.

“The declaration that 2023 was the hottest on record underlines the felt experiences of global warming by people across the world. While climate change has taken centrestage in international political discourse, action on the ground lags far behind,” says Sumaira Abdulali, environmentalist and founder of the NGO Awaaz Foundation.

What caused 2023 to be so warm?

In addition to human-induced climate change, the temperatures in 2023 were influenced by the El Niño weather pattern, which heated up the surface waters in the eastern Pacific Ocean, contributing to elevated global temperatures. While the El Niño can be one of the causes for the rise in temperature, human interventions and poor decision-making by world leaders, keeping only economical gains in mind while giving a backseat to climate issues, can also be a major cause. As per climate activist Aakash Ranison, “While world leaders may articulate grand promises on global platforms, these commitments often appear hollow in practice.”  

What have been the repercussions?

As per experts and scientists, the rise in global temperature can have major repercussions, leading to challenges for citizens. Ranison says India can significantly be affected by the unprecedented high temperatures, leading to shifts in habitats, threats to species survival, and adverse effects on agriculture, resulting in substantial losses for farmers. He believes that the escalation in temperatures can also contribute to an increase in climate refugees, rapid melting of glaciers, and heightened occurrences of water shortages, floods, and droughts. Abdulali agrees: “Ecosystems, biodiversity and human communities face existential threat as the temperature increases, rendering the earth unliveable.”

What steps can be taken?

To improve the situation, urgent action needs to be taken which includes the need to translate political commitments to grassroots-level actions, including stringent measures to control water, air and noise pollution and effective protection of forests, coastlines, the Himalayas and other mountain ranges, as per Abdulali. There is an understanding among the environmentalists that while practical plans are in place, made by policymakers, the missing element is the leadership's will to implement them. To mitigate some of the repercussions of global warming, Ranison thinks developed nations must transition away from fossil fuels, acknowledge the impact of animal agriculture on methane emissions, and shift towards plant-based diets globally. “Prioritising renewable energy is crucial, and it's imperative that commitments are honoured,” he says. 
Also read: World's available CO2 'budget' for 1.5C smaller than thought: study

To tackle the situation at a global level with a clear goal beneficial to the global good, rather than individual good is the need of the hour. Climate change does not recognise national borders and its effects are felt throughout the Earth. Abdulali believes that the international community can collaborate more effectively by directing greater focus on grassroots implementation of international commitments, especially in rapidly developing economies like India. She adds that change also needs to come from an individual level. “Individuals have a crucial role to play in motivating governments and corporations to enforce existing environmental laws and also to enact even more stringent laws to protect the earth and all its inhabitants,” says Abdulali

Ranison says a few steps can be taken by corporations and the government. Governments can prioritise nature by implementing acts like phasing out fossil fuels, emphasising renewables, imposing carbon taxes, penalising deviations from net-zero commitments, and enacting policies to curb waste generation in industries such as textiles and food, while corporations should concentrate on achieving genuine net-zero commitments, avoiding greenwashing, and exploring sustainable approaches to provide consumers with services and products.