As 2023 inches to a close, it would be a good time to have a relook at what the year was like when it comes to the climate crisis, key moments shaping the biggest crisis of our times and what we achieved and what needs to be done.
It was a year shaped by heatwaves and droughts, of floods and record-breaking temperatures, of annual climate pledges, victories and misses.
The year 2023 was the hottest year on record everywhere from Asia to America and Europe to Africa. Intense heatwaves gripped parts of US, China and Easter Europe in July. Rising carbon emissions and climate change are key factors behind this and the anticipated return of the El Niño weather phenomenon is also playing a part. The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) has also said – for the first time ever – that global temperatures are more likely than not to move more than 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels in the next five years.
The UK, Vietnam, Poland, Spain, China, Latvia, Myanmar, Portugal, Belarus, the Netherlands, Thailand are just some of the countries where temperature records have been broken this year. Meanwhile, in May, Delhi witnessed one of the lowest temperatures for the month at 19.2 degree celsius as the temperature in the Capital state hit a low of 6.6 degree celsius in january. Canada faced the worst wildfire season with roughly 18.5 million hectares of Canadian land burned. It surpassed the previous record of 7.6 million hectares scorched in 1989.
With record-breaking temperatures there was also a notable rise in the average ocean temperature. Starting in April, the ocean’s temperature has been on a steady ascent that culminated in an astounding 20.9 degree celsius in July.
Tropical Cyclone Freddy crossed the Indian Ocean as the longest-lived tropical cyclone on record and stayed over more than five weeks between February and March,. It made landfall three times, causing intense rainfall, flooding and landslides in Madagascar, Mozambique and Malawi. Tropical Cyclone Mocha, in May 2023, was one of the most intense cyclones ever observed in the Bay of Bengal, reaching peak 10-minute sustained winds of 115 kilometres per hour. It triggered 1.7 million displacements across the sub-region from Sri Lanka to Myanmar and through India and Bangladesh. Storm Daniel triggered floods in Libya claiming over 11,000 lives.
Simultaneously, the Mediterranean region and parts of Asia experienced deadly storms and typhoons, while the Americas confronted unprecedented disasters, including Brazil’s extreme floods and the stranding of Burning Man attendees in the US desert.
The heatwaves and floods were also followed by severe, long-running droughts, including in Central and South America, Europe and East Africa.
One of the biggest wins of the year has been the UN annual climate conference COP28 where the loss and damage fund was launched to compensate countries hit by climate disasters. Another notable achievement from the conference was when 200 countries signed the agreement on transitioning away from fossil fuels marking the “beginning of the end” for fossil fuels.
In April, Germany shut down its last three nuclear power plants, and the share of coal-fired power generation in the third quarter of 2023 has almost halved compared to the previous year, according to Germany’s Federal Statistical Office. Though the move has been controversial since climate advocates support nuclear as a clean, zero-carbon source others who fear nuclear accidents have supported the decision.
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The European Union agreed on a landmark biodiversity law that requires member states to restore at least 20% of their degraded land and sea habitats by 2030. It would also enforce a deadline to restore all damaged ecosystems by 2050 with Some 80% of habitats across the continent in poor condition.
In the US, the green energy transition has received a massive boost from the Inflation Reduction Act which includes $369 billion for action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, support clean energy and encourage electrification.
After decades of negotiations, countries have finally agreed to The High Seas Treaty that provides a framework for setting up marine protected areas, a crucial step to fulfil aims to protect 30% of the world’s oceans by 2030.
The rate of deforestation in the Amazon rainforest dropped sharply, after Brazil’s new government pledged to stop deforestation completely by 2030 and took steps including monitoring the forest for criminal activity such as illegal logging. In another milestone move, the country also upheld indigenous people’s rights to their ancestral land in a landmark ruling.
One of the key highlights of the year was the G20 New Delhi Summit in 2023 which was convened as a significant platform where climate change was a key issue of discussion. The ratified G20 Leaders’ Declaration, finalised on September 9, 2023, tackled various environmental challenges, focusing on sustainable development goals, climate finance commitments, decarbonisation imperatives, and transitioning to cleaner energy sources.
Emphasising the need to preserve ecosystems, promote a resilient ocean-based economy, combat plastic pollution, and strengthen disaster risk reduction and infrastructure resilience, the declaration underscored environmental priorities on a global scale. Despite acknowledging the commitment to tripling global renewable energy capacity by 2030, the summit encountered difficulties in reaching an agreement on fossil fuel phase-out, reflecting challenges from preceding G20 Energy Ministers’ meetings.
COP28 held in Dubai drew attention to the inaugural Global Stocktake (GST), taking precedence over other environmental agendas during its two-week span. Acknowledging the necessity of a 43% reduction in global greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 to limit global warming to 1.5°C, GST emphasised the shortfall in meeting outlined goals from the Paris Accord.
It urged collective global action to triple renewable energy capacity and double energy efficiency improvements by 2030. The final COP28 deal, agreed upon after intense negotiations, mandated countries to present national adaptation plans by 2030, with 51 nations having done so already. However, contributions to the Adaptation Fund fell short of requirements, with only a fraction of needed funding pledged by some European countries during the summit, spotlighting gaps in commitments to addressing climate change impacts. By the end of COP28, the fund’s coffers had swelled to $700 million, though that was still far from what’s required. According to estimates by climate experts, the fund will need between $150-400 billion annually by 2030.