The planet is living through its hottest year on record with killer heat and extreme weather destroying lives and livelihoods, experts warned on Thursday as world leaders gathered for the Cop28 climate change summit.
The World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) said it is virtually certain that 2023 will be the hottest year on record after “a deafening cacophony of broken records”.
July was probably the hottest month on land in the last 120,000 years, scientists believe, and April through to October saw record high monthly temperatures in the oceans.
The early signs are that next year will also be hot.
WMO Secretary-General Professor Petteri Taalas said: “Extreme weather is destroying lives and livelihoods on a daily basis.
“We cannot return to the climate of the 20th century, but we must act now to limit the risks of an increasingly inhospitable climate in this and the coming centuries.”
King Charles was joining Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, US climate tzar John Kerry, Rishi Sunak, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and other world leaders at the Cop28 gathering in Dubai which was expected to be the biggest Cop ever with 70,000 attendees.
But the presidents of the world’s two biggest emitters, US president Joe Biden and China’s leader Xi Jinping, are notably absent from the United Nations’ meeting.
The venue in the United Arab Emirates was controversial given that it is a major oil producer.
There were hopes that some progress could be made on agreeing a path to phase out fossil fuels, on cutting methane emissions, and on wealthy countries providing funds to help developing nations transition and mitigate global warming’s impact.
The King was holding a series of bilateral talks with world leaders ahead of his landmark speech at Cop28 on Friday and amid the Israel-Hamas conflict in the Middle East.
A source said: “His Majesty is focused on the serious business as a statesman of promoting world peace as well and reducing tensions in the region through his experience and contacts.”
On the environment, Buckingham Palace stressed that “for more than five decades, The King has championed action for a sustainable future”.
This year, extreme flooding from Cyclone Daniel killed thousands of people in Libya, wildfires in Canada burnt 18.5 million hectares, they also hit holiday hotspots in the Greek islands and Sicily, and Hawaii, while severe drought in Uruguay emptied reservoirs and pushed the country close to running out of fresh water.
The monsoon season in India caused nearly £1.2 billion in property damage, with many other countries hit by floods and extreme heat.
Even if bouts of extreme cold return, like one currently in northern Europe, the overall trend lines point to growing average global temperatures with mankind woefully slow at responding to the threat to the planet.
Prof Taalas stressed: “Greenhouse gas levels are record high. Global temperatures are record high. Sea level rise is record high. Antarctic sea ice is record low. It’s a deafening cacophony of broken records.
“These are more than just statistics. We risk losing the race to save our glaciers and to rein in sea level rise.”
In the Paris Agreement in 2015, countries agreed to limit the average global temperature rise to 2C above pre-industrial levels and make every effort to stop it rising above 1.5C.
But the Earth is on track for a catastrophic 3C increase by the end of the century under the emissions reduction policies currently in place, according to scientists.
Greenhouse gases continue to rise despite years of international government pledges to bring them down which is creating an increasingly hostile environment for human beings and wildlife by bringing fiercer heatwaves, droughts and storms.
Data up until October shows 2023 to have warmed 1.4C above the pre-industrial average, which is higher than the previous two hottest years of 2020 and 2016 and the final two months are unlikely to change this outcome, the WMO said.
Temperatures are likely to remain high going into 2024 due to El Nino, a naturally-occurring process in the eastern tropical Pacific that sees warmer water rise to the surface.
It adds to the warming in the atmosphere already caused by humans and leads to more severe droughts across areas like Indonesia, Australia, India, South Africa and the Amazon, increasing the likelihood of wildfires and making food harder to grow.
The WMO report is publishing its 2023 findings provisionally so that it can inform negotiations at the COP summit.
Its authors want urgent action from global leaders to hit the brakes on fossil fuel emissions, which is the main cause of the warming climate.
Carbon dioxide levels are 50 per cent higher than before the Industrial Revolution which is warming the atmosphere and the ocean with the sea rising twice as fast now than in the 1990s because of melting glaciers.
Antarctic sea ice has also been at a record low this year with ice covering an area the size of France and Germany combined missing compared to the previous low record.
Swiss glaciers have lost 10 per cent of their ice in the last two years, the WMO said, while those in the Pyrenees are likely to disappear completely in a few years, Spanish scientists have previously warned.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said: “We are living through climate collapse in real time and the impact is devastating.
“This year we have seen communities around the world pounded by fires, floods and searing temperatures.
“Record global heat should send shivers down the spines of world leaders.”