It is a headline we have become used to. 2023 was the world’s hottest year on record and the UK’s second hottest, just 0.06C behind 2022. From the summer burn of El Nino to the destructive winter floods, the UK saw its fair share of extremities in weather last year.
Globally, the number of extreme weather events that occurred was vast. National Geographic stated 2023 “seems destined to be remembered as the year that extreme weather events left the Northern Hemisphere reeling”.
The end of 2023 also saw COP28 take place in Dubai, and despite earlier fears of the talks collapsing, almost 200 nations finally agreed to a deal to “transition away” from fossil fuels. There was pushback from Saudi Arabia, an oil-producing nation, and from poorer nations that either rely on fossil fuel exports or have had a more limited role in causing climate change. However, all nations did agree to the compromise.
Yet back in the UK there are still fears the government may not be prioritising this issue enough. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak received severe criticism in the latter half of 2023 for a supposed “net zero U-turn”, which included a delay until 2035 on requiring all new cars to be “zero emission”, and scrapping plans ensuring landlords gain a minimum C grade on Energy Performance Certificates for rentals.
Mr Sunak also failed to appoint a chair of the Climate Change Committee to succeed Lord Deben who stepped down in July 2022. This has been argued to be a tactic to avoid scrutiny on his supposed U-turn policies. He did however state “with absolute confidence and belief” the UK would meet its net zero target in 2050. Greenpeace’s UK policy director Doug Parr commented on the Prime Minister’s actions: “Climate alarm bells are ringing, but Sunak has his fingers in his ears.”
It has been predicted that 2024 could be even hotter than 2023. According to the Met Office, it may even surpass the 1.5C warming threshold for the first time across the entire year. The 1.5C increase was what the 2015 Paris Agreement agreed to attempt to limit the global temperature rise to. Just 9 years later, this target seems likely to fail.
Scientists have stated that the extreme weather has been hard to predict with El Nino. The two opposite states of El Nino and La Nina significantly alter global weather, increasing and decreasing global temperatures respectively. For the UK, El Nino saw the hottest June and September on record, both recording over 33C.
With 2024 looking to be the third hottest in a row globally, the compromises of COP28 seem to be coming too little, too late
Average rainfall was also up by 11% across the UK, but more than 20% higher in England and Northern Ireland. 2023 was also calmer in terms of storms, seeing a long-term decline in wind speed. This is also a growing concern as an effect of climate change named “global stilling”. A 2022 Yale Environment article discussed this prediction, stating the “‘stilling’ could impact wind energy production and plant growth and might even affect the Gulf Stream”, decreasing the efficiency of sustainable energy sources such as wind farms.
From wildfires in Europe to floods in South Korea to Cyclone Freddy’s destruction in South-Eastern Africa, “virtually no one on Earth escaped the influence of global warming during the past three months,” Climate Central’s VP for science Andrew Pershing commented. With 2024 looking to be the third hottest in a row globally, the compromises of COP28 seem to be coming too little, too late.