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expert reaction to State of the Climate 2023

Scientists react to the State of Climate Report, published by the WMO.


Prof Euan Nisbet, Emeritus Professor, Royal Holloway, said:

“The ongoing sharp growth in atmospheric methane is very troubling.  The very strong growth in methane since 2020  makes it very difficult indeed to meet the targets of the UN Paris Agreement, especially as much of the new growth seems to be coming from biological feedbacks to climate warming.

“Our best immediate response is to try much harder to reduce human-caused methane emissions.

“Methane emissions that we CAN easily reduce are not just from the fossil fuel industries, such as  gas leaks and coal mine vents,  but also emissions from landfills, manure handling, and crop waste fires and many other sources.

“Although the US and EU are trying hard to cut emissions, it’s vital that China, India and Russia, three of the world’s biggest methane emitters, should join the UN Global Methane Pledge.

“China, the biggest emitter already has its Methane Plan: determined action could probably dramatically cut emissions without great economic disruption.

“Similarly, if India tackled its landfills, crop waste fires and coal mine vents,  and Russia cut its gas leaks, these actions could do a great deal to cut the amount of methane in the air.

“Other countries such as Brazil, Indonesia, Pakistan, Iran, Nigeria, Mexico, Australia, Turkmenistan,  South Africa, and many tropical countries could also do a great deal more to stop gas leaks, cover landfills, cut emissions from coal mines, and cut biomass burning. This is a global problem and it needs global action.”


Dr Till Kuhlbrodt, Senior Research Fellow at the National Centre for Atmospheric Science, University of Reading, said:

“Some of the climate and weather extremes we have seen in 2023 are markedly beyond anything we have seen before in the instrumental record. Sea-ice cover in the Southern Ocean was an outlier with its small size. For the North Atlantic, the sea surface temperature left the known range of variability in March last year and has not returned since. These observations are really concerning. The warmer oceans make heavy precipitation events more likely and speed up sea-level rise. Climate and Earth System scientists now need to assess in detail what the drivers of these unprecedented extremes are. It is already clear though that the accelerating global heating, caused mainly by burning oil, coal and gas, does make climate and weather extremes ever more likely.”


Dr Nina Seega, Director of the Centre for Sustainable Finance at the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL), said:

“2023 has been a record-breaking year for temperature rises, ocean warming, wildfires and many other climate related events. Unfortunately these records have not been matched by equally high amounts of climate and nature finance flowing toward building resilience and driving transition to a more sustainable future. Given the scale of these impacts, adaptation finance in particular has been lagging. Scaling existing solutions and collaboration across business, finance, policy and academic communities will be key to ensuring that 2023 does not set a precedent for further record breaking in the years ahead.”


Prof Dominic Hodgson, Interim Director of Science at the British Antarctic Survey, said:

“We welcome this report from the WMO. It shows that climate changes are intensifying across the planet, impacting the security of society through extreme weather events. Many of the changes they describe are amplified in the polar regions, such as the warming oceans, the loss of sea ice, and the melting of glaciers and ice sheets which is contributing to sea level rise.

“Our scientists at the British Antarctic Survey are witnessing these changes first hand.  We are absolutely focused on measuring and understanding the impacts of climate change so that governments have the data they need to adapt and protect the planetary systems on which our future depends. The report leaves no doubt about the urgency of reducing our dependence on fossil fuels.”


Abrar Chaudhury, Senior Research Fellow at the Saïd Business School, University of Oxford, said:

“While global climate finance has doubled to USD 1.3 trillion, the majority remains concentrated on mitigating climate change through energy and transport transitions. Sadly, only a fraction reaches low and middle-income countries (LMIC) for adaptation efforts, that are already vulnerable, lack the capacity to withstand these alarming increases in climate shocks and are in most needs of these funds. 

“The promise of climate finance is fading, as the annual USD 100 billion commitment for LMICs under the Paris Agreement remains unmet. We need urgent and equitable action to scale and direct global climate finance towards resilience-building in these regions, safeguarding livelihoods, and ecosystems”.


Prof Jonathan Bamber, Director of the Bristol Glaciology Centre, University of Bristol, said:

“The message is pretty simple and clear: warm the planet and ice melts, but to witness the loss of 10% of glacier volume in part of the European Alps in just two years is staggering. If that trend continues then we could see much of the Alps devoid of glaciers in a matter of decades. That is something that few, if any of us, would have expected see happen so rapidly.

“Sea level rise is one of the most pernicious and certain consequence of global heating. The latest figures show that the rate has increased by about a factor of four since the start of the 20th century and it is certain to continue to accelerate. Our own research indicates that, if greenhouse gas emissions continue unabated, there is a small chance that we could experience up to a 2 metre rise by 2100. This would truly be catastrophic for civilisation with the potential to displace around a tenth of the population of the planet. We are looking at the disappearance of small island nation states in the not too distant future and inundation of heavily populated coastal zones.”


Prof Cameron Hepburn, Battcock Professor of Environmental Economics at the Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment, University of Oxford, said:

“The World Metrological Organization is right to say that the tremendous growth in renewables since 2022 represents a glimmer of hope. Renewables, combined with storage, offer humanity’s best hope of reducing our emissions to safe levels. And the faster we transition to using them, the more money we save the global economy, whilst insulating ourselves from the damaging impacts of volatile fossil fuel markets. The WMO’s stark findings should provide policymakers with all the incentive they need to double down on investments into renewable energy.”


Dr Leslie Mabon, Lecturer in Environmental Systems, The Open University:

“The State of the Global Climate Report is a synthesis of multiple observations and pieces of data from across the last year, rather than a new piece of research in itself. The report brings together the hard data that underpins the many climate change news stories we heard in 2023, and paints a stark picture of the extent to which human-induced climate change is affecting people’s lives across the world.

“Crucially, the report notes that climate change can intensify existing inequalities and social and economic pressures, placing further pressure on the people and places who are already under stress and who have often done the least to cause climate change in the first place. The report also makes clear, though, that we have one of the key tools we need to respond to climate change at our fingertips in the form of renewable energy, which continues to be deployed at pace. What is vital now is that the historically high-emitting nations reduce their own fossil fuel emissions, and provide less wealthy countries with the finance and knowledge to both green their own energy systems and adapt to the climate change impacts the world is already locked into.” 


Prof Jeffrey Kargel, Senior Scientist, Planetary Science Institute, said:

“The World Meteorological Organization’s report sums up scientifically what billions of people already know from news reporting and their own observations of off-the-charts climate change and extreme weather. While the report focuses on oceanic sea-surface temperatures, those warming conditions and attendant shifts in extreme weather are felt on land. The warming seas cause ocean currents to shift, with direct impacts on fisheries and coastal climates, but the whole world of extreme weather changes with the warming seas. 

“The feared 1.5-degree C (2.7 degrees F) warming level is a marker for worsening climate impacts. It is not a threshold for imminent doom.  I expect that this decade the Earth will pass the 1.5 degree marker, and well before 2050, when today’s young children are young adults–even with economic transitions to lower carbon intensity–we will exceed 2 degree C (3.6 degrees F). Already, large parts of the Greenland ice sheet, the ice sheets in Antarctica, and most mountain glaciers are fated to diminish substantially or disappear, as we already see in progress. 

“The serious climate change impacts do not connote the inevitable doom of civilization. It depends on how people and governments change or don’t change behaviors, for better and worse, to adapt to, ignore, or exacerbate the impacts and the causes. The news has not all been about climate disasters. There has been rapid expansion of non-carbon renewable energy, both government-supported and market-based. The beneficial shifts have helped but are insufficient to stop accelerating climate change. Further pent-up climate change is baked into the human-altered atmosphere and oceans. Adaptations are needed for climate change that has already accrued and that which is still inevitable; all the more so if we do not speed economic transitions to reduce climate change.”


Prof Tina van de Flierdt, Head of the Department of Earth Science and Engineering at Imperial College London, said:

“The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) State of the Global Climate report highlights alarming climate change indicators. Generally, the data in the report reinforces that climate change is not a distant threat – it is here now, and it is already impacting lives worldwide.

“The report shows that sea level rise is now double of what was observed in the 1990s when satellite observation began, which is triggering widespread coastal challenges like flooding and erosion to coastal land. As temperatures continue to rise, even by just a tiny fraction of a degree, the oceans expand more and more, and land ice melts, adding even more water to the ocean.

“As the WMO report also addresses, in West Antarctica – the continent’s largest contributor to global sea level rise – ice loss is accelerating due to warm waters rising onto the shelves. While some areas still have cold water, this could change as Earth’s temperature surpasses 1.5°C warming. However, it is important to note that we are not yet locked into this trajectory: we have the opportunity to prevent the loss of the West Antarctic ice sheet by acting now and strongly reducing emissions globally. The future is in our hands, and ongoing climate projects and greater use of clean energy sources offer hope for a just and resilient future.”


Professor Chris Hilson, Director of the Reading Centre for Climate and Justice, University of Reading    

“The WMO is telling us that our climate system is increasingly starting to play havoc with our social systems. Its report confirms that 2023 was a year of broken climate records and extreme weather events. It also makes clear that the impacts of this were unequally felt. Climate justice requires us to act, both by cutting emissions drastically to stop these record-breaking events from getting worse, and also by helping to build better resilience in vulnerable countries and communities. To increase resilience, the report singles out the role of disaster early warning systems as well as the need for more adaptation finance. Without this, we can expect increased levels of food insecurity and associated climate displacement – two key social system impacts.”


Dr Alex Money, Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment, University of Oxford, said:

“This report highlights the acute risks from extreme weather in terms of impacts on ocean heat, sea levels, ice loss and glacier retreat. No less important are the chronic risks that this situation presents, such as increasing food and water insecurity across large parts of the world. Renewable energy generation offers part of the solution, although we should be mindful of possible consequences to water security in achieving the energy transition. Current modalities to mobilise adaptation finance at the scale needed to address water security are not fit for purpose. The status quo on how water is valued needs to be broken.”


Dr Kevin Collins, Senior Lecturer Environment & Systems at the Open University, said:

“The WMO report is another milestone in our understanding of the scale, reach and complexity of climate change.  It is too easy to say this is just more of the same: this report shows that many of the key measures such as sea ice, level and temperatures, and extreme weather events such as storms and droughts, were ‘off the charts’ for 2023.  But it is not easy to ignore the scale of related human consequences as our planet warms: the number of acutely food insecure worldwide has more than doubled, from 149 million people before the COVID-19 pandemic to 333 million people in 2023. 

“But while most of the data and graphs are cause for deep concern, there is at least one positive trend: renewable capacity additions increased by almost 50% from 2022 (a total of 510 gigawatts).  The highest rate in the last 20 years, this offers some potential for reduction in emissions.

“Detail aside, the WMO report is an important reminder of the complex interdependencies between climate change and human systems: climate change is directly impacting, but also being driven by our water, food, energy, economic and social systems.  Climate change is not happening by itself.  Systematic science helps us understand the scale of the situation we face, but we urgently need systemic decision making and actions if we are to rethink and reshape human-environment relationships in our climate changing world.”


Dr David Rippin, Department of Environment and Geography at the University of York, said:

“The WMO ‘State of the Global Climate’ report makes for extremely sobering reading. It is another well-researched document that rings the same alarm bells that we’ve been hearing for some time now.

“The meteorological extremes that we have seen in recent years are continuing, with major implications for all aspects of the physical world and the plants and animals (including ourselves) living on it.

“The sheer number of records broken in 2023 for ocean heating, glacier loss and so forth should be of sufficient concern to wake us and our politicians up to taking urgent and rapid action.

“Taking action makes even more sense, given the report’s statement that inaction over climate change will be more costly than acting. The time to do this is now, and the mindset should be one of great urgency.”


Prof Richard Allan, Professor of Climate Science at the University of Reading, said:

“This annual stock take of Earth’s climate documents continued rising temperatures and associated hot, wet and dry extremes that are entirely expected of a dangerously warming world. But the scale of ocean warmth in 2023 with surging heat accumulation, the loss of Antarctic sea ice and increasing rates of sea level rise show that climate change is not slowing or even steady, it’s accelerating. Levels of heat trapping greenhouse gases, Methane and Nitrous Oxide, are rising ever faster while CO2 levels at the beginning of 2024 are also surging as the mature El Niño event adds a boost to the continued emissions from human activities. The report shows that a hard brake and reversal in greenhouse gas increases through rapid and massive emissions cuts are essential in limiting dangerous increases in global temperatures, worsening weather extremes and rising oceans.”


Prof Robert Marchant, Department of Environment and Geography, University of York, said:

“Yet another report based on good science that documents decreasing glaciers, ice, and snow cover, rising temperatures and sea levels and the increased variability in rainfall where hitherto extreme events are becoming more normal and more extreme. 

“Worryingly, the gap between scientific evidence, action and finance to mitigate and reduce future impacts is not closing and the climate emergency alarm bells keep on ringing.

“There are, however, very positive actions taking place across the world, as individuals and communities are not waiting for their leaders to lead, but instead finding their own ways of adapting to climate change challenges.”


Prof Simon Lewis, Professor of Global Change Science, University College London, said:

“The state of the climate is an accelerating crisis for humanity. Last year flooding displaced 1.8 million people in east Africa, and a super-intense cyclone displaced 1.7 million people in Bangladesh, Myanmar and India. High-income countries didn’t escape either, with huge deadly fires ravaging Canada and the US. This is, sadly, only the beginning of much worse impacts to come, given carbon emissions are still rising and there is continued massive new investment in extracting fossil fuels. Politicians need to get a grip and ignore the lobbyists for the dinosaur industries of the past, and act now to protect people and our collective future prosperity.”


Prof Martin Siegert, Professor of Geosciences and Deputy VC at the University of Exeter, said:

“The world’s ice cover, on land and floating at sea, provides a major service to our climate, by reflecting solar energy back to space and storing water that would otherwise flood our coasts. Because of burning fossil fuels, which leads to co2-induced global heating, we have impacted the Polar Regions to such a degree that 2023 saw by far the greatest loss of sea ice in the Antarctic and of land ice in Greenland. The world will feel the detrimental effects now and into the future, because the changes observed will leads to ‘feedback’ processes encouraging further change. Our only response must be to stop burning fossil fuels so that the damage can be limited. That is our best and only option.”


Dr Chloe Brimicombe, Climate Scientist and Extreme Heat Researcher, University of Graz (Austria), said:

“The latest WMO state of the climate report is a Guinness world record compilation of climate records broken in 2023 and is not a celebration it underlines the urgency of increased climate action especially the sea ice record lows and month on month higher than average temperatures.

“This report is probably the first time we see the inclusion of green energy and socio economic impacts, extreme weather impacts food security and displacement and unless we have a green transition we will have greater food scarcity and more displacement both within countries but also globally.

“It might sometimes be said that climate change is far away from Europe, but it is lapping at the door and having a growing impact whether this is heatwaves, wildfires or floods at home or distant impacts effecting food supplies.

“To date this is the strongest report by the WMO in terms of impacts and records and demonstrates governments need to have the ambition to tackle climate change head on.  Globally in a big election year it is important action is taken, to avoid tipping points like the collapse of the Greenland ice sheet but to also ensure food and energy security does not collapse either.”


Dr Ella Gilbert, Climate Scientist, British Antarctic Survey, said:

“This latest report shows – yet again – how profoundly human actions are reshaping the planet. Climate heating has contributed to a truly remarkable year the world over in which records tumbled like dominoes. Air and ocean temperatures soared across the world, while glaciers suffered record losses and Antarctic sea ice plummeted to extraordinary lows. These changes all have real-world impacts for people and planet.

“We are transforming our climate with our actions – but 2023 will be merely a taste of what is to come without concerted, ambitious and courageous action on climate change.”


Prof Chris Rapley, Professor of Climate Science, University College London (UCL), said:

“The WMO report provides (another) stark account of the worsening state of the climate system. But what is its purpose? If it is to galvanise a greater scope and scale of action, it fails. Facts (in general and especially for ‘wicked’ problems) don’t drive action; and ‘Fear won’t do it’. Instead, Actionable Stories of Success can catalyse ‘Agency’ (the ability to Act) and positive progress. The ‘glimmer of hope’ section falls far short in this respect. As Einstein noted: “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results” .


Prof Stephan Harrison, Professor of Climate and Environmental Change, University of Exeter, said:

“In real time we are watching the total transformation of the Earth in response to global warming.  The massive loss of ice from mountain glaciers seen worldwide will have huge impacts on water supplies for hundreds of millions of the world’s poorest people”.


Dr Friederike Otto, Senior Lecturer in Climate Science at the Grantham Institute for Climate Change and the Environment, Imperial College London, said:

“For more than 250 years, the burning of oil, gas and coal has filled the atmosphere with greenhouse gasses.

“The result is the dire situation we are in today – a rapidly heating climate with dangerous weather, suffering ecosystems and rising sea-levels, as outlined by the WMO report.

“To stop things from getting worse, humans need to stop burning fossil fuels. It really is that simple.

“If we do not stop burning fossil fuels, the climate will continue to warm, making life more dangerous, more unpredictable, and more expensive for billions of people on earth.”


Dr Joel Hirschi, Associate Head of Marine Systems Modelling, National Oceanography Centre.

“The remarkable ocean temperatures we have seen in 2023 and now in 2024 are not confined to the surface ocean. The thermal energy contained in the top 2000m of the ocean was also the highest on record. 90% of the additional heat contained in the climate system because of global warming is found in the oceans, and on any given day in 2023 about 1/3 of the global oceans was experiencing a marine heat wave in 2023.

“The Mediterranean experiencing severe to strong marine heat waves for the 12th consecutive year in 2023 is a strong indicator of our changing climate. Earlier this month (i.e. March 2024) the record ocean surface temperatures were exceeded by more than 0.1C. In particular, in the subtropical and tropical Atlantic, the current ocean surface temperatures are exceeding 2023 levels. If this persists it would increase the risk of a very active North Atlantic hurricane season – especially in conjunction with a La Niña event which will likely develop later in the year. (Subsurface ocean temperatures suggest a La Niña event is developing).

“A notable regional departure from the globally increasing ocean heat content is found in the North Atlantic between Scotland and Greenland / Northeastern Canada. Whether this is an indication of a slowing ocean circulation (i.e. of the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation, or AMOC), a response to air-sea fluxes or a combination of both is still being debated.”


Prof Mike Berners-Lee of Lancaster University said:

“In terms of energy related emissions, the climate doesn’t care how much renewable energy we produce; it only cares about how little fossil fuel we burn. At the moment we are still growing both.  What this report misses (e.g. in figure 3) is that currently, growth in global energy use is partly enabled by the growth in renewables. To stand a chance of keeping below 1.5 degrees temperature rise, total energy demand needs to fall alongside growth in renewables.”


Prof Roland Gehrels, Head of Environment and Geography at the University of York, said:

“The WMO report highlights that the rate of global mean sea level rise is accelerating and has doubled in the past ten years compared to the last decade of the 20th century. What’s more, it has tripled relative to the rest of the 20th century and by the end of this century the rate is predicted to triple again. The sobering fact is that most of the sea-level rise that will occur in our children’s lifetime cannot be stopped and is already ‘pre-programmed’ due to past and ongoing human activities and global warming, causing ocean waters to expand and land-based ice to melt. Future adaptation, rather than mitigation, will be key as far as sea-level rise is concerned.”


Dr Brian O’Callaghan, Lead Researcher at Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment, University of Oxford, said:

“Unprecedented global warming has brought unprecedented economic consequences – especially to the most vulnerable. Consequences are far wider than we can imagine, including lost lives, lost homes, and lost economic productivity, all of which underpin slower development.

“The growing financial pressures of responding to climate catastrophes are putting developing country balance sheets under immense strain. With insufficient investment in adaptation and resilience, every day our economies are edging closer and closer to the next climate-induced shock. Climate change is a systemic risk – with consequences that domino across health, social, economic, political, and environmental systems.

“The good news is that we know how to reduce most of our emissions – and financial systems are well-placed to make this happen. We must stop excusing the inaction of some leaders – who seem adept at proving themselves to be either ignorant, wicked, or profiteering parasites.

“In economic terms, the fossil fuel investing decisions of many countries are akin to spending $1,000 to buy a stranger’s old dirty phone with exposed wiring and a battery in need of constant replacement, instead of $900 on a brand new one, more sustainably sourced. Addressing climate change is cheaper than not doing so.”




Declared interests

Jeff Kargel – no conflicts

Daniela Schmidt – No competing interests.

Euan Nisbet – I’m on the UN IMEO Science Panel

Alex Money – I am the CEO of Watermarq, an early-stage company working on water risk.

Kevin Collins – no conflicts of interest to declare

David Martin – no conflict to declare

Richard Allan – No conflicts of interest.

Robert Marchant – No conflict of interest to declare

Simon Lewis – No conflicts.

Chloe Brimicombe – No declaration of interests.

Ella Gilbert – No interests to declare.

Chris Rapley is Chair of the UCL Climate Action Unit

Tina van de Flierdt is Co-Chief Scientist of the international research programme ‘Sensitivity of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet to Two Degrees of Warming’ (SWAIS 2C)

Brian O’Callaghan is an investor in the US energy transition at Acadia Infrastructure Capital. He has a financial interest in expanded support of renewable energy technologies in North America. Brian is also a Senior Advisor at the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa.

For all other experts, no reply to our request for DOIs was received.

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