2023: the hottest year on record and what this means for climate change

2023 hottest year on record

According to NASA, 2023 was the hottest year on record with temperatures around 2.1 degrees Fahrenheit / 1.2 degrees Celsius above the average for NASA’s baseline period (1951 – 1980). The news from NASA confirmed what billions around the world experienced in 2023 and revealed just how the Earth is changing, from wildfires to rising sea levels, and extreme heat. In light of this, the need for climate action cannot be understated, and this year, in 2024, a globally adopted sustainability agenda is greatly needed to stand a chance at achieving our environmental goals. 

What is causing climate change? 

There are numerous factors contributing to the planet’s rising temperatures, but the main ones are degrading forests, farming livestock, and burning fossil fuels. All of these activities add enormous amounts of greenhouse gas emissions to the atmosphere. This increases the greenhouse effect which ultimately leads to rising temperatures. 

The primary driver of the environmental crisis is the greenhouse effect. Some gases in the Earth’s atmosphere behave quite like glass in a greenhouse such that they trap the sun’s heat and prevent it from leaking back into space. Most of these greenhouse gases occur naturally. However, human activities are increasing the concentrations of some of them in the atmosphere. In particular, methane, nitrous oxide, fluorinated gases, and carbon dioxide. The largest contributor to global warming is carbon dioxide created by human activities. Other greenhouse gases are emitted by human activities in smaller amounts. Methane is more powerful than carbon dioxide but has a shorter atmospheric lifetime.

Non-greenhouse gas pollutants such as aerosols have different cooling and warming effects and are typically associated with things like poor air quality. Several factors are causing the rise in carbon dioxide emissions, such as burning oil, coal, and gas, chopping down forests, increasing livestock farming, and using fertilisers containing nitrogen. 

The effects of climate change 

The impacts of climate change are varied. When global temperatures rise, widespread shifts in weather systems occur, which make events like floods, hurricanes, and droughts more unpredictable and severe. Additionally, these drastic events become more frequent as the planet heats up further. 

The environmental crisis is also disrupting entire ecosystems. Climate change causes such as a slight shift in temperature can lead to significant changes that ripple through food webs and the planet. Climate change’s effects are most acutely visible in the world’s coldest regions. For example, the Arctic is heating up twice as quickly as anywhere else on the planet. This is causing the rapid melting of polar ice sheets and glaciers where a great quantity of water is stored. With sea ice melting faster, darker ocean waters which absorb more sunlight become exposed, creating a positive feedback loop that accelerates the melting process. 

Sea levels are also expected to continue rising as climate change exacerbates, which threatens humanity, infrastructure, and ecosystems. In the warming climate, farming crops also become more unpredictable, and livestock become increasingly vulnerable and sensitive to extreme weather. 

Climate change threatens species that are already suffering from the biodiversity crisis. This crisis is primarily driven by changes in ocean and land use as well as the direct exploitation of species. Finally, climate change threatens humanity in the face of famine, war, injury, disease, displacement, and death.

What needs to be done? 

The effects of climate change certainly stress the urgency to act now. The impacts of the environmental crisis are already being felt in many vulnerable parts of the world, and we can no longer ignore this global catastrophe. Business sustainability will be key in adapting to and mitigating the climate crisis and ensuring a green and resilient future. 

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