GENEVA - As wildfires raged across Southern Europe and North Africa, top UN climate scientists said on Thursday that it was “virtually certain” that July 2023 will be the warmest on record.
Echoing that warning in New York, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said that “short of a mini-Ice Age” in coming days, July 2023 would likely “shatter records across the board”.

“Climate change is here. It is terrifying. And it is just the beginning,” said the UN chief, warning that the consequences are as clear as they are tragic: “children swept away by monsoon rains, families running from the flames (and) workers collapsing in scorching heat.”

‘Remarkable and unprecedented’

In Geneva, scientists from the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the European Commission’s Copernicus Climate Change Service described conditions this month as “rather remarkable and unprecedented”.

They said that new data showed that so far, July has seen the hottest three-week period ever recorded and the three hottest days on record.

“We can say that the first three weeks of July have been the warmest three weeks periods ever observed in our record,” said Carlo Buentempo, Director of Copernicus Climate Change Service, via Zoom.

“This anomaly is so large with respect to other record-breaking months in our record that we are virtually certain that the month, the month as a whole will become the warmest July on record, the warmest month on record, in all likelihood.”

Ocean temperature record

Just as worrying was the fact that ocean temperatures are at their highest-ever recorded levels for this time of year. This trend has been apparent since the end of April.

Citing “a clear and dramatic warming decade on decade” since the 1970s, WMO’s Director of Climate Services Chris Hewitt noted that 2015 to 2022 saw the eight warmest years on record, based on a 173-year dataset.

This was despite the fact that the La Niña sea-cooling phenomenon prevailed towards the end of that period in the Pacific region, which reined in global average temperatures slightly, Mr. Hewitt explained.

“But now the La Niña has ended” - to be replaced by the sea-warming El Niño effect - waters have begun to heat up in the tropical Pacific, bringing the “almost certain likelihood that one of the next five years will be the warmest on record”.

It is also “more likely than not” that global average temperatures will temporarily exceed the 1.5°C threshold above pre-industrial levels “for at least one of the five years”, the WMO scientist continued.

‘Era of global boiling’

Speaking at UN Headquarters, the Secretary-General underscored the need for global action on emissions, climate adaptation and climate finance.

He warned that “the era of global warming has ended” and “the era of global boiling has arrived.”

Although climate change is evident, “we can still stop the worst,” he said. “But to do so we must turn a year of burning heat into a year of burning ambition.”

Climate action now

He said leaders “must step up for climate action and climate justice”, particularly those from the G20 leading industrial nations, responsible for 80 per cent of global emissions.

He pointed to upcoming summits - including the UN Climate Ambition Summit in September and the COP28 climate conference in Dubai in November - as critical opportunities.

Net-zero goal

Mr. Guterres highlighted the need for new national emissions targets from G20 members and urged all countries to push to reach net zero emissions by mid-century.

He said all actors must unite to accelerate the just and equitable transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy, while stopping oil and gas expansion and phasing out coal by 2040.

Action from companies, cities, regions, financial institutions and fossil fuel companies is also critical.

“No more greenwashing. No more deception. And no more abusive distortion of anti-trust laws to sabotage net zero alliances,” he said.