Hottest October ever joins list of record-shattering months amid unprecedented warming

Last month was the hottest October on record globally, Europe's climate monitor said Wednesday, as months of exceptional heat are likely to make 2023 the warmest year in history.

October marked the fifth straight month of record-shattering temperatures as climate scientists sounds the alarm.
October marked the fifth straight month of record-shattering temperatures as climate scientists sounds the alarm.  © Paige Taylor White / AFP

With temperatures soaring beyond previous averages by exceptional margins, scientists say the pressure on world leaders to curb planet-heating greenhouse gas pollution has never been more urgent as they prepare to meet in Dubai for the COP28 climate conference this month.

Drought parched parts of the US and Mexico during October, while huge swathes of the planet saw wetter than normal conditions often linked to storms and cyclones, said the EU's Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S).

Sea surface temperatures were the highest ever recorded for the month, a phenomenon driven by global warming that scientists say plays a key role in driving storms to be more ferocious and destructive.

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"October 2023 has seen exceptional temperature anomalies, following on from four months of global temperature records being obliterated," said Samantha Burgess, C3S Deputy Director.

"We can say with near-certainty that 2023 will be the warmest year on record, and is currently 1.43 degrees Celsius above the preindustrial average. The sense of urgency for ambitious climate action going into COP28 has never been higher."

2023 temperatures likely to be highest in human history

Warmer oceans are linked to increasingly intense storms and rainfall, which are causing heavy floods globally.
Warmer oceans are linked to increasingly intense storms and rainfall, which are causing heavy floods globally.  © REUTERS

The landmark Paris Agreement saw nearly 200 countries pledge to limit global warming to well below two degrees Celsius since the preindustrial era and preferably a safer 1.5.

This year has also seen the beginning of a warming El Niño weather phenomenon – which warms waters in the southern Pacific and stokes hotter weather beyond – although scientists expect the worst effects to be felt at the end of 2023 and into next year.

October was 1.7 degrees Celsius warmer than an estimate of the October average for the preindustrial era, Copernicus said.

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Global average temperatures since January have been the highest in records going back to 1940, the monitor added, registering 1.43 degrees above the 1850-1900 preindustrial average.

Beyond these official records, scientists say proxy data for the climate going back further – like tree rings or ice cores – suggests the temperatures seen this year could be unprecedented in human history, potentially the warmest in more than 100,000 years.

Average sea surface temperatures for the month excluding the polar regions also reached all-time highs for October, at 20.79 degrees Celsius (69.42 degrees Fahrenheit).

Warmer oceans are linked to an increase in the intensity of storms and the melting of crucial ice shelves buffering the vast ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica, threatening destructive sea level rise. A warmer atmosphere also holds more moisture, resulting in heavier rainfall.

Humanity headed towards "uncharted territory"

Wildfires in the US and Canada have released enormous amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
Wildfires in the US and Canada have released enormous amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.  © REUTERS

Leaders meeting in the United Arab Emirates for the November 30 to December 12 COP28 conference will have to respond to a damning progress report on the world's Paris pledges after major scientific reports have made clear that the world is far off track.

Carbon emissions -– largely from fossil fuels – continue to creep up when they need to be slashed in half this decade.

People across the planet have faced heatwaves and droughts this year, while severe flooding has struck in the US, China and India and beyond.

In Canada, record wildfires partly related to climate change released more carbon dioxide than the country's total 2021 greenhouse gas emissions, according to a State of the Climate report published by a group of prominent scientists last month.

The report warned that humanity had veered into "uncharted territory" with warming that imperils life on Earth.

Lead author William Ripple, a professor at Oregon State University said it was likely that annual average temperatures would start to be recorded above 1.5 degrees Celsius.

"As warming continues, we face increasing danger from amplifying climate feedback loops and tipping points such as ice sheet melting and forest dieback," he said. "Once crossed, these tipping points could change our climate in ways that may be difficult or impossible to reverse."

Cover photo: Paige Taylor White / AFP

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