Earth just had its hottest 12 months ever recorded, analysis finds

The past 12 months have been the hottest ever recorded, according to an analysis released Thursday from the nonprofit organization Climate Central. 

The researchers analyzed global average temperatures from November 2022 through October and found they were about 1.32 degrees Celsius — or 2.4 degrees Fahrenheit — above preindustrial averages. 

In the past 12 months, 90% of the world’s population experienced at least 10 days with high temperatures that would have been unlikely without the influence of climate change, the analysis found. One in 4 people experienced five-day heat waves made at least twice as likely by climate change. 

“This is the hottest temperature our planet has experienced in something like 125,000 years,” Andrew Pershing, the organization’s vice president for science, said at a news conference. 

The researchers say climate change from the burning of fossil fuels is the primary driver of the increase in temperature. El Niño, a natural climate pattern that releases ocean heat into the atmosphere, is also beginning to boost temperatures.

The analysis is no surprise. Scientists project the Earth will continue to shatter heat records until society puts a stop to carbon pollution. But the analysis shows how pervasive the threat of heat became worldwide over the past 12 months and how few places were spared the influence of climate change. 

Many scientists, including Pershing, expect next year to set new records as the influence of El Niño makes a stronger impact. 

“El Niño is going to really start to bite next year,” he said.

The Climate Central analysis is based on peer-reviewed methods used in previous research, but the new results have not been subjected to peer review. Climate Central has a strong reputation for analyzing climate trends.  

The group released its 12-month analysis on the eve of the 2023 United Nations Climate Change Conference, which is often called COP28 and is scheduled to take place in Dubai from Nov. 30 to Dec. 12. World leaders will discuss the responsibility of rich nations to pay poorer countries for climate damage, how to provide air conditioning sustainably to those in need of it and how to transition more rapidly from fossil fuels, among other topics. 

A new report — from the United Nations Environment Program and several climate research groups — found that world leaders are failing to transition economies away from fossil fuels. The report said governments plan to extract and produce twice the amount of fossil fuels needed to keep global temperatures from exceeding 1.5 degrees C above preindustrial conditions– a climate aim outlined in the 2015 Paris Agreement, which was adopted by 196 countries. 

In the U.S., 2023 has been a year of extremes, including many events with clear links to climate change. The Southwest experienced more than two weeks of extreme heat, which would not have been possible if not for the influence of climate change. Phoenix registered temperatures over 110 F for more than three weeks; Houston and Dallas were among many cities in Texas where temperatures exceeded 100 F during a similar span. 

Heat officials in Maricopa County, Arizona, have reported at least 569 heat-associated deaths this season, with more reports under investigation. 

Scientists also found that climate change made Canada’s historic wildfire season, in which at least 45 million acres burned, at least twice as likely. At times, Canadian wildfires blanketed much of the U.S. with smoke, from New York City to Florida.

Evan Bush

Evan Bush is a science reporter for NBC News. He can be reached at Evan.Bush@nbcuni.com.

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