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The climate forecast for 2023: El Niño and more record-breaking temperatures

Last year was the UK’s hottest and climate change heralds further destabilising extremes.

By India Bourke

As a new year begins our failure to reduce man-made global emissions means temperatures are continuing to smash records in the worst of ways. The UK Met Office has confirmed that 2022 was the UK’s hottest year in 364 years of measurement, with an average temperature of over 10°C. Human induced climate change made this annual temperature 160 times more likely, Met Office scientists have shown. Whereas a natural climate would see such warmth only once in every 500 years, now it can be expected every three to four.

The global picture confirms the trend. From deadly floods in Madagascar, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Pakistan, to rivers running dry in Europe and China, the impacts of climate change were inescapable during 2022. The year is likely to come in as the fifth warmest year since records began in 1850, analysts at Berkeley Earth data science institute said, making the last eight years the combined eight warmest recorded.

Even for those not fearing for their lives or livelihoods, unusual weather is casting an uncanny shadow over daily life, with New Year’s Day marked by record high temperatures across an unprecedented 15 European countries. Last year’s temperature extremes are only the beginning of worse to come.

For while the 1.2°C of warming the world has experienced so far since the Industrial Revolution will continue to produce more droughts, wildfires and unstable and extreme weather, it is set to be exacerbated in the next few years by the natural phenomenon of El Niño. This is part of a pattern of climate variability in the tropical Pacific that leads to lower than average temperatures in La Niña periods and higher during El Niño. Recent years have fallen under the former, but now the latter is set to take effect and will raise the background global temperature by around 0.2°C, according to the Met Office.

When will the impact be felt? According to Zeke Hausfather, of Berkeley Earth, it is still too early to tell for sure when exactly the effect will hit. “If we do end up with El Niño conditions in 2023, it will be relatively late in the year,” he estimates, then there will be a “good chance” of a new overall record warm year in 2024.

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What does this mean for the UK? “The global forecast suggests that 2023 will be in the top four or five of years since 1850, but that doesn’t mean that the UK will have such a correspondingly warm year,” said Grahame Madge from the Met Office. “With the trend from climate change nudging UK temperatures upward it is possible that the UK could see another warm year, but this is by no means certain.”

Whatever 2023 brings, however, the memories of the UK’s first 40°C day last July will be seared into Britons’ minds. Instead of addressing the existential threat the Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, used his opening speech of the year to trail maths education reform. This political disconnect on the climate threatens to be the biggest accounting error of all.

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