Human-caused global warming at all-time high, new report concludes

Smoke is pushed up from the towers of a power plant at sunset.
The lignite-fired power station of Schwarze Pumpe is pictured during sunrise on January 06, 2022 in Neupetershain, Germany. The Schwarze Pumpe power plant is going to be powered off in 2038 as part of the German coal phase-out. (Image credit: Getty Images)

Last year alone, human activities — such as burning coal for cheap power — led to our planet warming by 1.3 degrees Celsius (2.34 Fahrenheit), according to a new report. If we continue pumping heat-trapping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere at our current rate, scientists say we have about five years before we drive global warming beyond the 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 Fahrenheit) set by the Paris Agreement.

Once again, the findings show that human-driven global warming continues to heat the planet — and that's even though climate action has somewhat slowed the overall rise in greenhouse gas emissions. "Global temperatures are still heading in the wrong direction and faster than ever before," Piers Forster, who is a climate scientist at the University of Leeds in the U.K., said in a statement provided by the university, whose scientists spearheaded the new report.

Related: Scientists are mapping Earth's rivers from space before climate change devastates our planet

Last year, from June through December, each month set a global heat record for its respective history. For example, July 2023 was the hottest July on a record that dates back to the late 1800s. Those extreme temperatures devastated many regions across the world, thawing Antarctic ice to unmatched lows and sparking the worst-ever wildfire season in Canada. The extreme heat was clearly driven by heat-trapping gases emitted when companies burn fossil fuels to generate power. 

These record-shattering temperatures were further exacerbated by a recurring weather pattern known as El Niño, which is linked to warmer temperatures on average, although scientists say it has been strengthening over the past 60 years due to global warming. And, again, human activities are the primary driver of global warming — what we're seeing in terms of climate change, scientists have reiterated, is not a healthy and natural phenomenon for our planet.

A world map plotted with color blocks depicting percentiles of global average land and ocean temperatures for the full year 2023. Color blocks depict increasing warmth, from dark blue (record-coldest area) to dark red (record-warmest area) and spanning areas in between that were "much cooler than average" through "much warmer than average."  (Image credit: NOAA NCEI)

"Last year, when observed temperature records were broken, these natural factors were temporarily adding around 10 percent to the long-term warming," Forster said in the news release. "The devastation wrought by wildfires, drought, flooding and heat waves the world saw in 2023 must not become the new normal."

Over the past decade, from 2014 to 2023, temperatures rose by 1.19 degrees Celsius (2.1 Fahrenheit) — an increase from the 1.14 degrees Celsius (2 Fahrenheit) seen from 2013 to 2022, according to the new report, which was published Tuesday (June 4) and overseen by over 50 scientists including Forster. A full version of the report can be viewed in the journal Earth System Science Data.

The scientists say the past decade's global warming is also partly a side effect of reduced sulfur emissions from the commercial shipping industry, which, since 2020, has changed its fuel composition to limit sulfur in accordance with regulations from the International Maritime Organization (IMO). Those regulations aimed at — and were successful in — reducing air pollution from ships. That might sound like a positive, but not in all aspects. Sulfur is known to have a cooling effect on the planet by reflecting sunlight back into space. So, the accelerated phaseout of sulfur in marine fuel starting 2020 meant fewer sulfur particles were in the atmosphere to reflect the sun's rays. 

Global warming due to this IMO regulation is equal to tacking on roughly two additional years of greenhouse gas emissions at current rates, which may not fundamentally change where the world is headed in terms of warming by 2050, but "it does make it more difficult to limit warming to 1.5C over the next few decades," Forster and climate scientist Zeke Hausfather at Berkeley Earth wrote in Carbon Brief last year.

The latest findings are also echoed in multiple reports issued this year. In February, the European Union's Copernicus Climate Change Service announced that, last year, average temperatures worldwide rose by 1.48 degrees Celsius, or 2.66 Fahrenheit, compared to the late 19th century — marking 2023 as the hottest total year on record. An analysis by scientists at NASA similarly concluded last year's global temperatures to be around 1.2 degrees Celsius (2.16 Fahrenheit) warmer than pre-industrial levels.

While every organization employs slightly different methods to arrive at these numbers, they all agree 2023 was our planet's hottest in a century and a half, and possibly in the past 2,000 years.

"It's just so obvious we should do as much as possible, as soon as possible," Jan Esper, a climate scientist at the Johannes Gutenberg University in Germany, had told reporters during a press briefing last month. "I am worried about global warming — it's one of the biggest threats out there."

This November, world leaders will gather for the United Nations climate conference COP29 in Azerbaijan for the latest round of negotiations aimed at capping the rise of global temperatures to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) compared to preindustrial levels.

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Sharmila Kuthunur contributor

Sharmila Kuthunur is a Seattle-based science journalist covering astronomy, astrophysics and space exploration. Follow her on X @skuthunur.

  • Atlan0001
    I have the answer. Just make mankind extinct and you'll make the Earth pristine. Or, just establish government population controls and total quality management and control of all human activities. As Will Durant, along with the Roman Cicero much earlier, and many others in between, have said, a million rules governing every human's every activity makes a savage adult child, 'The Lord of the Flies'. Total indoctrination of mankind . . . Oops, that is one those many, very many, bad descriptive words ("mankind") on its way to becoming forbidden speech! Total quality management. don't you know!

    Moving hard and fast to colonize and open the Space Frontier would be better than a Chinese "War of a thousand (million, billion, trillion..., zillion) cuts bleeding infrastructure and civilization to death!" Nothing but slaves and slave overseers don't build or keep civilizations! And a civilized intelligent and benign population is a more open systemic Frontiering population, NOT a more closed system prison world population.

    It was American revolutionary Patrick Henry who said, "Give me liberty or give me death!"
    It was Moses who said, "Let my people go!"
    It was the fanatical Utopians who paid the horrific price for not opening the system up to a more benign frontier of Exodus. SOONEST!
    Tyranny and the Apocalypse is an inward sucking avalanche that begins with the roll of one little pebble, then just one more little pebble, and one more, and ten more, and a hundred more little pebbles, and a thousand more, and a thousand-thousand-million more!
  • Classical Motion
    I don't know about global warming, but the amount of fossil emissions is going to shoot up every year for at least 5 yrs. Big time.

    What the final CO2 levels are in ten years is anybody's guess. Just like what effect it will have on temp and sea level is anybody's guess. The atmosphere is a sea also that can hold lot's of water. Whether that sea will block more heat than it can blanket is another guess. And a watering will cause a greening, and that will have an effect. The land will hold more water.

    We will all see how much of these predictions and relationships come true. It does no good to worry about it. It can not be stopped.
  • Unclear Engineer
    There is already backlash (or "greenlash") in European politics. For instance, see .

    There is too much political posturing and not enough engineering assessment. And sociological factors are being used divisively instead of positively.

    Too much that is impossible is being demanded, while what is possible is being ignored or hampered as not good enough.

    We are not going to stop sea level rise in our lifetimes, even if we could somehow stop emitting all CO2 today at close of business. We need to recognize that it is going to happen and prepare for it. We can use the costs and damages as arguments that things can get even worse, a lot worse, and can happen faster, a lot faster, if we don't change our ways. But, we can't expect people to do things that they cannot physically do or financially afford to do. And, using scare tactics by both "sides" of the politics is going to drive people to make very counter-productive disruptions in our efforts to change things.
  • Atlan0001
    It's ultimately a matter of physics and infinity cancelation, as I've said before. There will never be 'One World' until there are 'two worlds', the second the 'Frontier' (the 'New World' (new worlds, plural) offset from the 'Old World'. As we see of the "observable universe", seeing what looks to be "accelerating expansion", division will have its half -- in full! -- of the universe ('0' (null unity) and/or '1' (unity)) either to the outside (more benign) or ripping it out of the guts of unity to the inside (more malignant)!

    Knowledge of what people are doing or will do or not do is not involved concerning the many. It will be a matter, or an antimatter, of closed systemic negative energies' negative entropy! Everything that can possibly go wrong, will go wrong, no matter what! When it is the due time of beginning birthing, the baby cannot be suspended into perpetuity in the womb, doing anything at all first before exodus, before expansion, from the womb world. Just two examples of so many. Another example is that mankind, and life in general, is a combustion engine that cannot have the exhaust system (the frontier system) stoppered without reversing the exhaust (waste to some, NOT waste at all to others) into the engine (thus, the 'apocalypse' Stephen Hawking, among many others, have foreseen)!

    Then there is the tree of life, its rings, its softest portion to the inside, its hardest portions -- clear to the hardest and most brittle, bark -- to the frontier outside, being turned inside-out and outside-in, being reversed by nature from the normal natural order of things to the most abnormal, in the closed world system!
  • Ken Fabian
    Unclear Engineer said:
    There is already backlash (or "greenlash") in European politics. For instance, see .

    There is too much political posturing and not enough engineering assessment. And sociological factors are being used divisively instead of positively.

    Too much that is impossible is being demanded, while what is possible is being ignored or hampered as not good enough.

    We are not going to stop sea level rise in our lifetimes, even if we could somehow stop emitting all CO2 today at close of business. We need to recognize that it is going to happen and prepare for it. We can use the costs and damages as arguments that things can get even worse, a lot worse, and can happen faster, a lot faster, if we don't change our ways. But, we can't expect people to do things that they cannot physically do or financially afford to do. And, using scare tactics by both "sides" of the politics is going to drive people to make very counter-productive disruptions in our efforts to change things.
    The face of green energy isn't the face-painted protester in full costume - the epitome of the unreasoning extremist - it is successful engineers and business people.

    That right leaning parties in Europe oppose renewable energy and sometimes they win elections isn't surprising news; it's been a nonstop backlash against renewable energy since it started being used in a big way. RE is growing like it is now - phenomenal growth - because it is driven by commercial demand for electricity generation assets that seeks the lowest cost. If emissions and climate are in the decision making it is secondary.

    That alone won't get us to zero emissions but it gets us a lot further than pushing for the impossible. We can't treat success as an impossible demand and what is going on does show how much science, R&D and innovation pay dividends.
  • Atlan0001
    Green energy startups shorn of government undergirding, financing and totalitarian tyrannical inflationary force on the populace, go bankrupt in numbers like no other capitalism. As I have said, money is a token of energy and a closed systemic world 'Utopia' (the opposite side of the coin to open systemic 'Frontier') is accelerating in the black hole of debt.
  • Ken Fabian
    Asking the impossible? The current biggest problem Europe (and US) has with EV's is China now makes them too cheap! Can't make this stuff up.

    Only a war with China can stop EV's now - but hey, there is plenty of support for that option too. But I seriously doubt the reality of that move would deliver the benefits the China hawks imagine.

    In theory the protectionists on the side of facing up to the emissions problem want to give their manufacturers catch up opportunity, but in combination with the doubt, deny, delay crowd it is just protecting fossil fuel vehicle manufacturers from EV's. Anti climate action politics will feed those flames and milk the international tensions for their own ends - saving fossil fuels.

    I had thought iron smelting would be a hard one, that we'd need to have the hydrogen in order to do zero emissions iron smelting - and hydrogen is hard - but molten oxide electrolysis is getting close to commercialisation and looking likely to beat DRI - purely electrical, no hydrogen needed, can run on low grade ores that DRI cannot. The spoils heaps of prior mining and smelting will do. Hydrogen got a lot of support out of deeply held "renewable will never work" assumptions, with H2 from fossil fuels with carbon capture - greenwash fantasy - heavily promoted by the largest producers of Hydrogen, the fossil fuel industry, but is looking ever more like it won't happen.

    Heat pumps are great and cold weather air source heat pumps now work well in conditions considered way outside their range a decade or two ago. Borehole heat pumps are great for district heating and large building and retrofitting is getting more cost effective.

    Batteries are still getting better and cheaper - and China isn't stinting on R&D; more significant advances are now coming from there than the US or Europe. We're seeing higher capacities for EV's with longer range but CATL has also developed ones with longer working life, that resist degrading, to fulfil the needs of battery swap companies in China.

    The growth of solar and wind is beyond stoppable now and I think the economic alarmist fear of them is losing potency. Solar is heading into Zeno's race type diminishing returns as it approaches but can never quite reach zero. The cost of solar panels has stopped being a limiting factor.

    Who knew supporting science and industry innovation in the energy field pays dividends?
  • Unclear Engineer
    The news is not as glowing as your post. People that are not employees of fossil fuel companies are big parts of the backlash. Electric car sales are slowing down, and car manufacturers are backing off to some degree. California has more solar power production than its grid can handle and has to "curtail" solar power on many days, now, because of lack of storage capacity. Prices of solar power bought from rooftops are being reduced from the incentivized levels to realistic values, and that is undercutting the return on investment for home owner solar. Plus, the damage to roof top solar from hail and flying debris is starting to raise insurance costs.

    Yes, new technology developments will continue to address many of the problems. But, it is definitely going to cost money to get everything to work on renewable power sources. And, making sure that the availability of enough power is reliable is going to be even more costly than just getting the total capacity as high as the total demand.

    I am not seeing cost reductions at the retail level for buying "clean energy" from my grid provider, and I am not seeing cost savings from buying electric vehicles when I look at the usual ownership period for my vehicles, not to mention the lost capabilities from going electric compared to ICE engines.

    So, reality is far less rosy than your post implies.

    The governor of my state just signed an executive order prohibiting new installations of gas furnaces. Looking at that as an engineer, I see it INCREASING CO2 emissions for the foreseeable future. Here is why: modern gas furnaces are at least 95% efficient in converting the heat in the fuel to heat in the building air. But, although electric resistance heat is 100% efficient in converting electricity to heat in the building air, the efficiency of converting gas energy to electricity is only about 33%. So, about 3 times as much CO2 will be produced by requiring the natural gas to be used to make electricity instead of directly making heat in the building. People who don't think clearly will say to use heat pumps. But, heat pumps do not work here all year in all weather, 24 hours every day - some sort of backup is still needed. And, that is usually at night, when solar is not available to make the electricity. My state does get some of its grid power from nuclear, and a bit from hydro, but also some from oil and still a bit from coal, because a plant is at a strategic place on the grid and can't be converted. So, more CO2 until whenever we get to total "clean" energy on our grid. So, my preferred option would have been to allow gas backup heat to heat pumps. And, considering how often I have had to replace my heat pumps (which also has CO2 emissions from mining the materials to delivering the product to my residence), the improving efficiency heat pumps would offset the use of the gas furnaces whenever realistically possible.

    Another aspect is that gas heat would provide a backup option for when the grid goes down, whether by the more violent storms (that the climate change people keep telling us about) or by a crashing grid that has not kept up with new demand from making cars and everything else electrical.

    What I am saying is that smarter engineering of the transition is needed, both to more quickly reduce actual CO2 emissions and also to reduce the backlash. You can't just disregard the backlash, because those people vote, too. And, they can also riot and revolt. Better to take the complaints seriously than to disrespect the people you want to push to change.
  • Atlan0001
    Those in hot and cold regions of the country where periodic power outages are on the increase, who can afford it are buying a gas electric generator to back up the all-electric home, and auto, increasingly being forced on them by the present government. costs for powering a home, cost for powering an auto and transportation in general, costs for food and all other goods and services, are skyrocketing. Public and private debt is skyrocketing.

    Need and want for more energy by and for 8-billion people plus exponentially increasing new kinds of activity, is outpacing both fossil and renewable sources of energy supply, threatening both rising costs and rises in brownouts and blackouts all at once. Seething anger in peoples all across the world is on the increase, increasingly pointed at governments and environmentalist elites, medias, and tyrannies profiting enormously from their growing miseries . . . before going bankrupt after growing rich in wealth essentially stolen from the populace and rich in wealth of elite's feudalistic oligarchal powers. There are those pigs of George Orwell's 'Animal Farm' who always profit (in forms of 'Soylent Green') from the mass enslavement of the animals to their Utopian Farm System.
  • Ken Fabian
    Unclear Engineer - it is unclear what you believe can be done near term or how holding back on RE and electrification now - as global warming hits new all time highs and emissions are the highest ever - will lead to better solutions later.

    Opposition to emissions reductions - saving fossil fuels - is a matter of faith and/or party loyalty for a lot of those "backlash" voters, along with belief that renewables cannot work, will make matters worse and are a problem that should be opposed. At the heart of that is thinking akin to Classical Motion's - (paraphrasing) what would climate scientists know?! Take out the insincere, doubt, deny, delay inspired and embedded backlashing and there isn't nearly so much backlash - but alarmist fear of energy unreliability for dererring and delaying decarbonizing has definitely been a winner for fossil fuels.

    That there are serious calls for civil revolt against RE and addressing emissions at all (amongst other issues), by political extremists given exceptional mainstream political legitimacy is disturbing; but rewarding their bad behavior by giving into their threats seems likely to encourage them. America isn't the world but the world will be a worse place if governance and the rule of law gets subverted there.

    Gas supply unreliability's serious economic damage has seen commitment to RE increase in Europe, no matter the doubt, deny, delay political efforts to reframe it as failures of renewables and incite a backlash and claim the short term responses as abandoning support for RE. Gas was supposed to be the essential ingredient for RE, the reliable backup RE can't do without (by everyone except the RE proponents) and it failed everyone except the gas companies (other than Russia's) that got hyper profits out of it.

    But yes, every bit of economic hardship will continue be used to argue that emissions reductions should be deferred, by the same voices that have been trying to save fossil fuels from global warming since we first knew global warming was serious.

    Here in Australia the wholesale electricity price is strongly linked to gas prices, that remain stubbornly high and that - ironically - has been a boon for RE profitability. Getting the most value from RE has been for those who put it on their roofs but that is changing as large scale wind and solar contributions to the grid grow. Electricity from the NEM grid is near to 35% now, up from 12% hydro and most of the growth within the last decade.

    The cost effectiveness is still a relatively new change that takes time to flow through but a profound one; RE growth is now primarily driven by demand for new electricity generation at least cost.

    I think phasing out gas boilers is timely - building homes with long term gas dependence built into them now, to allay alarmist fears of RE unreliability is not so smart. Heat pumps and supplementary gas might be a reasonable interim choice but air source heat pumps are getting better in cold conditions too. R&D does that. Ground source already works very well.

    I think your "that will make emissions worse" argument against a ban on new gas heating is a bit disingenuous; new electric heating replacing gas and oil heating is going to be a small portion of electricity demand growth and the proportion of RE vs gas in the grid is a moving target, growing fast. Building abundance of low emissions energy is a high priority so that all of what grids supply is low emissions is in my opinion the single most sgnificant thing we are doing right now.