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July was Earth’s hottest month ever recorded, EU climate service says, warning of "dire consequences"

Now that July’s sizzling numbers are all in, the European climate monitoring organization has made it official: July 2023 was Earth’s hottest month on record, and by a wide margin. July’s global average temperature of 62.51 degrees Fahrenheit was six tenths of a degree higher than the previous record set in 2019, the Copernicus Climate Change Service, a division of the European Union’s space program, announced Tuesday.

Normally, global temperature records are broken by hundredths or a tenth of a degree, so the wide margin is unusual.

“These records have dire consequences for both people and the planet exposed to ever more frequent and intense extreme events,” said Copernicus deputy director Samantha Burgess. There have been deadly heat waves in the Southwestern United States and Mexico, Europe and Asia. Scientific quick studies put the blame on human-caused climate change from the burning of coal, oil and natural gas.

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“Anthropogenic [human-caused greenhouse gas] emissions are ultimately the main driver of these rising temperatures,” said Carlo Buontempo, director of the Copernicus service, when the preliminary data was revealed late last month. “Extreme weather which has affected many millions of people in July is unfortunately the harsh reality of climate change and a foretaste of the future.”

Days in July have been hotter than previously recorded from July 2, including what the World Meteorological Organization said had been the “hottest week on record” globally.

“We are in uncharted territory and we can expect more records to fall as El Nino develops further and these impacts will extend into 2024,” said Christopher Hewitt, WMO Director of Climate Services. “This is worrying news for the planet.”

It was so extra warm in July that Copernicus and the World Meteorological Organization made the unusual early announcement that it was likely the hottest month days before it ended. Tuesday’s calculations made it official.

The month was 2.7 degrees warmer than pre-industrial times. In 2015, the nations of the world agreed to try to prevent long-term warming — not individual months or even years, but decades — that is 2.7 degrees warmer than pre-industrial times.

Last month was 1.3 degrees hotter than the average July from 1991 to 2020, Copernicus said. The world’s oceans overall were 0.9 degrees warmer than the previous 30 years, while the North Atlantic was 1.9 degrees hotter than average. Antarctica set record lows for sea ice, 15% below average for this time of year.

Copernicus’ records go back to 1940. The temperature record for July would be hotter than any month the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has recorded and their records go back to 1850. But scientists say it was actually the hottest in a far longer time period.

“It’s a stunning record and makes it quite clearly the warmest month on Earth in 10,000 years,” said Stefan Rahmstorf, a climate scientist at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Research in Germany, who wasn’t part of the Copernicus team.

Rahmstorf cited studies that use tree rings and other proxies that show present times are the warmest since the beginning of the Holocene Epoch, about 10,000 years ago. Before the Holocene started there was an ice age, so it would be logical to even say this is the warmest record for 120,000 years, he said.

“We should not care about July because it’s a record, but because it won’t be a record for long,” said Imperial College of London climate scientist Friederike Otto. “It’s an indicator of how much we have changed the climate. We are living in a very different world, one that our societies are not adapted to live in very well.”

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