2023 has been officially marked as the hottest year in recorded history, posing questions about humanity’s capacity to combat the escalating climate crisis.

Former NASA scientist James Hansen, a pioneering figure in climate science, voiced scepticism about the effectiveness of governments in tackling climate change. Hansen prophesied that 2023 would be a turning point, laying bare the shortcomings in addressing global warming. Rather than witnessing a slowdown, the world experienced an acceleration in the rate of global warming. July 2023 turned out to be the hottest month in 120,000 years.

The director of the climate programme at Columbia University’s Earth Institute advocated for a generational shift in leadership as the most promising avenue for tackling the climate crisis. Hansen recognised the need for young people to take charge of their future, especially amidst current political turbulence.

After nearly three decades of global debate, fossil fuels were officially acknowledged as the primary cause of the climate crisis. Despite this recognition, the United Nations COP28 summit in Dubai concluded with a vague call for a “transition away” from fossil fuels, underscoring the challenges in achieving a consensus on decisive action.

The Japanese meteorological agency declared 2023 a record-breaking year, with temperatures surpassing the global average between 1991 and 2020 by 0.53°C—surpassing the previous record set in 2016 by 0.35°C. The world is now approximately 1.2°C hotter than preindustrial times, with the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicting with “greater than 99% chance” that 2023 will stand as the hottest year in its 174-year dataset.

Human-caused global heating, compounded by El Niño, contributed to persistent heat anomalies, with November registering temperatures more than 2°C above the preindustrial average, as reported by Europe’s Copernicus Climate Change Service.

December witnessed many parts of the world experiencing the hottest-ever Christmas. As the new year approached, monthly temperature records continued to be shattered in various regions, including central Asia, South America, Europe, and Australia.

Berkeley Earth stated that average temperatures in 2023 were likely be 1.5°C higher than preindustrial levels, adding to the growing chorus of concerns expressed by climate watchers. Extreme events such as heatwaves, droughts, floods, fires, rapid ice melt, and temperature anomalies in the ocean have left experts horrified at the unprecedented pace of change.

Professor Johan Rockström from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research suggests that Earth is entering a phase which signals a shift in the planet’s response to human pressures. Rockström metaphorically describes extreme events as invoices sent back to human habitats, indicating that the planet may be entering a phase of “payback” for the environmental toll exacted by human activities.