BRUSSELS — The world could breach a new average temperature record in 2023 or 2024, fueled by climate change and the anticipated return of the El Niño weather phenomenon, climate scientists say.
Climate models suggest that after three years of the La Niña weather pattern in the Pacific Ocean, which generally lowers global temperatures slightly, the world will experience a return to El Niño, the warmer counterpart, later this year.
During El Niño, winds blowing west along the equator slow down, and warm water is pushed east, creating warmer surface ocean temperatures.
“El Niño is normally associated with record breaking temperatures at the global level. Whether this will happen in 2023 or 2024 is yet known, but it is, I think, more likely than not,” said Carlo Buontempo, director of the European Union’s (EU) Copernicus Climate Change Service.
Climate models suggest a return to El Niño conditions in the late boreal summer, and the possibility of a strong El Niño developing towards the end of the year, Mr. Buontempo said.
The world’s hottest year on record so far was 2016, coinciding with a strong El Niño — although climate change has fueled extreme temperatures even in years without the phenomenon.
The last eight years were the world’s eight hottest on record — reflecting the longer-term warming trend driven by greenhouse gas emissions.
Friederike Otto, senior lecturer at Imperial College London’s Grantham Institute, said El Niño-fueled temperatures could worsen the climate change impacts countries are already experiencing — including severe heatwaves, drought and wildfires.
“If El Niño does develop, there is a good chance 2023 will be even hotter than 2016 — considering the world has continued to warm as humans continue to burn fossil fuels,” Mr. Otto said.
EU Copernicus scientists published a report on Thursday assessing the climate extremes the world experienced last year, its fifth-warmest year on record.
Europe experienced its hottest summer on record in 2022, while climate change-fueled extreme rain caused disastrous flooding in Pakistan, and in February, Antarctic sea ice levels hit a record low.
The world’s average global temperature is now 1.20C higher than in pre-industrial times, Copernicus said.
Despite most of the world’s major emitters pledging to eventually slash their net emissions to zero, global CO2 emissions last year continued to rise. — Reuters