The latest in extreme weather trends brought a deep freeze to parts of Asia and the northern hemisphere, while the UK weather agency forecast that carbon dioxide levels would continue to build in 2023 and contribute further to climate change.
The deep freeze in northeastern areas of China saw the city of Mohe, known as China’s north pole, experience temperatures of minus 53C last week, exceeding the minus 52.3C record struck in 1969. Temperatures in Beijing dropped to minus 16C midweek.
In Japan, Maniwa in Okayama prefecture had a record 93cm of snow in 24 hours and the Korean peninsula was paralysed in parts when transport ground to a halt after heavy falls.
In Afghanistan, more than 160 people were reported to have died in the past fortnight as temperatures fell to as low as minus 28C, well below average for the time of the year, in a country that struggles to cope with such extremities.
In Siberia, the village of Tongulakh, near Yakutsk, reached a minimum temperature of minus 62.7C on January 18, the lowest temperature recorded in Russia since 2002.
There were forecasts that the cold weather pattern would shift to North America in the coming days.
The Arctic freeze comes as a result of the polar vortex, as the jet stream that circles the earth sweeps further south. Scientists believe that as the planet warms more unusual jet stream patterns will take place.
The extreme cold stands in contrast to the intense heat of the 2022 summer and autumn, when temperatures were 2C above the average over parts of Siberia and parts of central Asia and China endured power cuts, factory closures, forest fires and a prolonged drought.
While scientists are wary about attributing short term conditions to the long-term climate trend, climate change since pre-industrial times has led to an increase in the frequency and severity of extreme weather.
The UK Met Office forecast this week for a rise in atmospheric CO₂ concentrations was tempered by the temporary cooling effect of the La Nina phenomenon.
This pattern involves the circulation of air and water across the Pacific Ocean, and the resulting conditions encourage tropical forests and other vegetation to soak up more carbon dioxide than usual.
The average concentration of CO₂ this year is expected to reach above 420.2 parts per million, the Met said in its latest report, or 1.97 ppm higher than last year.
The level varies seasonally and exceeded 420 ppm on daily basis on occasions in 2021 and 2022. In 2023, the seasonal cycle of emissions is expected to peak at a monthly mean value of 423.3 ppm.
Richard Betts, who leads the team behind the CO₂ forecast, said the forecast of a slower build-up was “not because humanity is emitting less carbon. Instead, we are getting a free ‘helping hand’ from nature — but only for now.”
“Once La Niña weather patterns have ceased, more of our emissions will remain in the atmosphere. We cannot rely on nature to do our job for us,” he added.
“For every month of 2023, atmospheric CO₂ will be at levels more than 50 per cent higher than when humanity began large-scale burning of fossil fuels in the industrial revolution in the late 18th century,” the agency concluded in its report.
Global temperatures have already risen at least 1.1C, and greenhouse gas emissions must be cut by almost half to limit the rise to 1.5C by 2030 to meet the ideal Paris climate goal and prevent further disasters.
This would require a “determined year-by-year decline in the rate of atmospheric CO₂ rise, starting immediately and reaching zero in the 2030s” the Met noted.
Instead, once the current La Niña pattern abates, “the earth’s ability to draw down carbon-dioxide will be lost, allowing CO₂ in the atmosphere to grow faster,” Betts warned.
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