Feeling the heat in summer is normal. But unprecedented extreme temperatures this summer past were exceptional. And while it is usual for the Arctic ice cap to melt somewhat during the warmer months, that it loses all its ice to the point where the sea level rises are unheard of. Climate change is breaking statistical records and creating conditions which, up to very recently, were thought highly improbable.
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2023 looks like being hottest year ever recorded
After the hottest June ever recorded, with temperatures over 0.5 °C the average between 1991 and 2020, the thermometers continue to surprise us. Researchers at NASA confirmed that July 2023 was the hottest month in history according to their database of global temperatures.
Moreover, the Earth’s average temperature in July was 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels, i.e., temporarily reaching one of the most symbolic limits of the Paris Agreement, which seeks to prevent us exceeding this level by the end of the 21st Century. And worse still, during 2022, the mean temperature in Europe was 2.3 °C above the pre-industrial average.
The safety net of the international agreement should, of course, be calculated from average temperatures over several years - and not just from a single month. Nevertheless, what happened over the past year deserves our full attention.
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What statistical data tells us about climate change
As published by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), it is probable that global temperatures reach unprecedented levels over the next five years.
Experts warn that there exists a 66% probability that, between 2023 and 2027, the average annual global temperature will exceed pre-industrial levels by more than 1.5 °C during at least one year. And there is a 98% probability that at least one of the next five years will be the hottest ever recorded.
Climate scientists from Bristol, Exeter, Oxford and Edinburgh universities recently published a study of statistical data related to climate change in which they tried to find the regions of the planet where, in the coming years, temperatures that were thought to be statistically impossible will be reached.
“There is a 98% probability that at least one of the next five years will be the hottest ever recorded”
After analyzing historical data from 1959 to 2021, the researchers found that 31% of land areas have already experienced temperatures they shouldn´t have done if the planet was following its usual statistical patterns, i.e., on a planet which isn’t suffering global warming due to greenhouse gas emissions in its atmosphere.
According to the analysis, published in Nature, many of the record heatwaves experienced in recent decades are improbable and should only take place once every 10,000 years. As a result, the researchers have become aware that, in the near future (in fact, it is already happening), humanity will have to tackle a large number of statistically impossible climate events.
“31% of land areas have already experienced temperatures they shouldn´t have done if the planet was following its usual statistical patterns”
Heatwaves are fatal – but with better preparation lives can be saved. The 2022 data confirms that, in Europe alone, 16,000 people died due to stress from heat. But preventive planning can reduce mortality due to climate extremes. Although the statistics can appear daunting, they offer us the opportunity to understand better the problem we are facing and take measures to mitigate the consequences.
It is important to educate the population about the risks and prevention measures against extreme climate events. Information and awareness are key tools for tackling the crisis.
Governments, institutions and private companies also need to promote resilience and communities’ capacity to respond, as well as foster solidarity and international cooperation. We cannot ignore the fact that climate change is already impacting upon millions of people across the world.