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wildfire smoke in Alberta, Canada
Calgary, Alberta, Canada wildfire smoke.17 May 2023. Photo: Dwayne Reilander. Wikimedia Commons.

The World Meteorological Organization (Geneva, Switzerland) State of Climate 2023 Report by Celste Saulo, secretary general, was issued on March 19th, 2024.

“As secretary general of the World Meteorological Organization, I am now sounding the Red Alert about the state of the climate.”

The WMO has issued an annual State of the Climate Report for more than 30 years. Accordingly, Dr. Celste Saulo’s release of the Flagship Report: “The year 2023 set new records for every single climate indicator. This annual report shows that the climate crisis is the defining challenge that humanity faces, closely intertwined with the inequality crisis as witnessed by growing food insecurity, population displacement, and biodiversity loss.”

According to WMO Secretary-General Saulo (Ph.D. Atmospheric Sciences, University of Buenos Aires): “Scientific knowledge of climate change has existed for more than five decades, and yet we’ve missed an entire generation of opportunity. We must base today’s decisions upon future generations rather than short-term economic interests.”

Economic interests might consider taking a back seat by adjusting, considerably lower, its “infinite growth as soon as possible” footprint so the planet can catch its breath. Short-term economic interests as a feature of the neoliberal brand of capitalism are antithetical to the staid principles of climate science. They simply don’t mix.

The inherent antagonism between neoliberalism’s free market dictates of “follow the money” versus the planet’s complex ecosystems that don’t need money is addressed in Global Social Challenges d/d May 4, 2021, The University of Manchester: “It seems then, that in order to prevent total ecological breakdown, we need to radically change our relationship with the way we produce and use resources. Any system that provides profit as an incentive, seems to always lead to exploitation of the earths finite resources. The idea of unlimited growth continuing indefinitely is the key culprit in climate breakdown.”

What’s more important for life: Profits or Mother Nature?

Accordingly, economic interests risk sudden failure, blindsided without the support of planetary ecosystems, i.e., planetary infrastructure which is increasingly under attack like never before. Throughout the biosphere, ecosystems struggle, rainforests emitting CO2, ice caps melting, Greenland a basket case, permafrost methane bubbling to surface, glaciers clobbered, and severe drought repeatedly hitting nations of the world, everywhere worldwide, Europe much harder, especially Spain subject to risk of 75% desertification with temperatures running in-excess of +2°C pre-industrial throughout the EU.

Some highlights of WMO’s State of the Climate:

Climate change is an existential threat to vulnerable populations everywhere: “The cost of climate action may seem high, but the costs of climate inaction are much higher.”

Glaciers, as of 2023, had the largest loss on record. Yet, glaciers are the “water towers of the world, and we’re losing them fast. They are freshwater reservoirs.”

A separate report by the Swiss Academy of Sciences, coincided with WMO’s Red Alert: “Swiss glaciers are melting at a rapidly increasing rate. The acceleration is dramatic, with as much ice being lost in only two years as was the case between 1960 and 1990. The two extreme consecutive years have led to glacier tongues collapsing and the disappearance of many smaller glaciers. For example, measurements of the St. Annafirn glacier in the canton of Uri had to be suspended as a result.”

On a positive note, according to the secretary-general: “A glimmer of hope… in 2023 clean renewable energy increased nearly 50% over 2022.” Africa has huge renewable potential that is only using 1% of renewable investments. “We must focus on renewables for Africa.”

Omar Badur, WMO Head of Climate Monitoring

A key climate Indicator: Global temperatures 2023 were the warmest on record at 1.45°C above 1850-1900 average. Past 9 years, warmest 9 years on record. This trend appears endless.

Sea ice loss in Antarctica was one of the major climate features reported in 2023. As a result, 2023 saw the highest rise in sea level ever. The rate doubled. In previous decades it was 2.13 mm per year. The recent decade recorded 4.17 mm/yr., nearly double.

The most extreme climate events for the year related to heat and extreme precipitation:

Extreme heat during the summer occurred (1) Japan had the hottest summer on record (2) Australia the hottest July-Sept on record (3) unprecedented wildfires in Canada (4) SE Asia extreme heat April/May (5) All-Europe extreme heat in summer (6) SE United States exceptionally hot summer (7) Mid-South America March, September extreme heat waves. All of which led to excessive mortality and massive forest fires.

WMO’s discussion of extreme precipitation and deficit precipitation references the impact on agricultural food security and flooding. Most of South America, Central America, and North America experienced extreme dry episodes. North Africa experienced a long drought with some dam reservoirs at nearly zero percent of capacity. Water deficits are defining significant parts of the African continent.

Meanwhile, pervasive flooding was seen throughout, especially in China and New Zealand, the worst flooding in recorded history. For example, in August 2023 more than 1,000,000 were forced to flee homes in China’s northeastern Hebei province, thereafter over one month to recede.

A major concern, maybe most significant of all, and most hidden from sight, major changes in the oceans, over time, become irreversible. According to WMO’s report, 80-90% of the oceans recorded marine heatwaves in 2023. Like drought on land, excessive heatwaves lead to desertification of the oceans. However, in contrast, changes in the ocean are not as fast as atmospheric changes, and as such. once a change is established in the oceans, it’s irreversible. This is an extremely worrying trend as 80-90% experienced heatwaves.

Confirming WMO’s observations, according to the Institute of Atmospheric Physics at the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the U.S. National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration, 2o23 ocean temperatures were, in the words of researchers: “Off the charts.” (Source: “Astounding Ocean Temperatures in 2023 Intensified Extreme Weather, Data Shows”, The Guardian, January 11, 2024.)

According to Secretary General Celste: “We are having temperatures that are way above what we used to have, and our populations are not prepared to cope with that. Their infrastructure is not prepared. Their homes are not prepared. That’s why we spoke about a Red Alert.”

Future UN climate conferences should consider focusing on adaptation measures for countries infrastructure to withstand the onslaught of drought, wildfires, floods, and sea level rise. After all, insurance companies are raising rates and, in some areas, dropping coverage altogether to adapt to climate change’s impact on bottom line profits, but in the harshest fashion, leaving the public to fend for itself, hopefully finding state-sponsored support.

In contrast to insurance companies, which are running for the hills as global warming slashes profits, after 30 consecutive years of UN climate meetings, every issue brought before the plenary body of experts ends up worse until the following annual meeting, when it is again discussed one more time as an existential threat that gets progressively worse by the next annual session, on and on it goes. Yet, nothing about adaptation.

In fact, the UNEP Adaptation Gap Report 2023 found the world underfinanced, underprepared, with inadequate investment and thus exposed to “slow progress on climate adaptation.”

Adaptation to the forces of climate change at UN climate conferences, as a major focus, would likely be a welcomed relief and a more appropriate topic than whining about excessive fossil fuel CO2 emissions now that climate change/global warming is starting to look more and more like an out-of-control freight train barreling down the mountainside.

In line with publication of WMO’s 2023 flagship report, January 2024 was the hottest January on record.

Moreover, as reported by NOAA, February 2024 was the hottest February on record. February is the ninth consecutive month of record heat.

Now that the climate system is setting new hottest temperature records month-by-month, it goes without saying, it’s a deadly dangerous affair.

How long can this trend last?


Robert Hunziker (MA, economic history, DePaul University) is a freelance writer and environmental journalist whose articles have been translated into foreign languages and appeared in over 50 journals, magazines, and sites worldwide.  Read other articles by Robert.
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