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El Nino could make 2024 hotter than record 2023

Environmental protest on climate change


This year could be hotter under El Nino's influence than the record-shattering 2023, the United Nations warned Friday, as it urged drastic emissions cuts to combat climate change.

The UN's World Meteorological Organization said new monthly temperature records were set every month between June and December, and the pattern is likely to continue due to the warming El Nino weather phenomenon.

The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) predicted there is a one in three chance that 2024 will be warmer than 2023 -- and a 99 percent certainty that 2024 will rank among the five warmest years ever.

NASA climatologist Gavin Schmidt, director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, estimated the odds were even higher.

"I put it at about 50-50: 50 percent chance it'll be warmer, 50 percent chance it will be slightly cooler," he told AFP, adding there were hints of "mysterious" changes to Earth's climate systems, that would nonetheless require more data to confirm or refute.

The UN's WMO weather and climate agency said July and August last year were the two hottest months ever recorded, as it officially confirmed 2023 had been the warmest year on record "by a huge margin".

The 2015 Paris climate accords aimed to limit global warming to well below two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels -- and 1.5C if possible.

The WMO said the 2023 annual average global temperature was 1.45 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels (1850-1900) -- though one of the six datasets it relies on, the non-profit research organization Berkeley Earth, placed the figure as high as 1.54C.

The WMO's new secretary-general Celeste Saulo warned that El Nino, which emerged mid-2023, is likely to turn up the heat even further in 2024.

The naturally occurring climate pattern, typically associated with increased heat worldwide, usually increases global temperatures in the year after it develops.

"The shift from cooling La Nina to warming El Nino by the middle of 2023 is clearly reflected in the rise in temperature," she said.

- Humanity's 'biggest challenge' -

NOAA said the 2023 global surface temperature was 1.18C above the 20th-century average, and was hotter than the next warmest year, 2016, by a record-setting margin of 0.15C.

The Arctic, northern North America, central Asia, the North Atlantic, and the eastern tropical Pacific were particularly hotter, it said.

Saulo said climate change was now "the biggest challenge that humanity faces".

A WMO report in November found that concentrations of the three main heat-trapping greenhouse gases -- carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide -- reached record high levels in 2022, with preliminary data indicating that the levels continued to grow in 2023.

"Climate change is escalating -- and this is unequivocal because of human activities," said Saulo.

"Given that El Nino usually has the biggest impact on global temperatures after it peaks, 2024 could be even hotter."