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Looking back on a year of climate firsts

January 2, 2024
Looking back on a year of climate firsts
2023 was officially the hottest year in human history. The year marked the start of an era of “global boiling” according to UN Secretary General António Guterres. At the same time, major strides were taken in global climate policy and scientific discovery.

January: The U.S. Department of Energy allocates over $100 million to biofuel projects 

As President Joe Biden worked to meet his goal of net-zero emissions by 2050, the Energy Department announced plans to fund 17 projects focused on biofuel production to replace fossil fuels. Biofuels can be made from biomass including agricultural waste, and offer a promising alternative to carbon-emitting fuel methods. The expansion of biofuel production is expected to increase energy independence, create new jobs for Americans, and increase clean energy in transportation. 

February: European Union approves ban on sale of all fossil fuel vehicles by 2035 

On Tuesday, February 14, the European Parliament voted to ban the sale of all new petrol and diesel cars across the European Union by 2035. This could significantly reduce European fossil fuel dependency and promote a global manufacturing shift towards electric vehicles. The rules will require carmakers to achieve a 100% cut in greenhouse gas emissions before the 2035 deadline, with a 55% cut in emissions required by 2030. 

March: UN Water Conference brings together world leaders to discuss freshwater access

Policymakers from around the world gathered in New York City in March to strategize freshwater management and improve drinking water access. The conference was the first event of its kind in the past 46 years, and covered topics such as flooding, droughts, water contamination, and sanitation services. Delegates formed a Water Action Agenda, which highlighted voluntary commitments to improve water services across the globe. 

April: France faces an extreme drought

Before the summer season even began, France was already in the middle of a water shortage. The country faced a severe drought for the second year in a row, with conditions worsening since the 2022 drought season. Farmers across Southern Europe were hit hard, and are looking for ways to adapt to the “new normal.”

May: Solar power overtakes oil production investment for the first time

The International Energy Agency announced in May that solar power investments would finally overtake fossil fuel spending in 2023. For every dollar invested in fossil fuels, $1.7 is now being invested in clean energy. However, a majority of this spending is coming from advanced economies, highlighting the need for sustainable development in low-income communities to support global net-zero emissions targets. 

June: UN members sign historic ocean protection treaty

The 193 member states of the United Nations adopted a High Seas Treaty aimed to address ocean warming and threatened marine ecosystems. The treaty includes landmark legislation protecting high seas from plastic pollution and overfishing and setting new goals for marine biodiversity preservation. Previously, countries have been responsible for managing their own coastal territories and waterways, but the high seas have remained relatively unmanaged and unprotected, so this agreement is a major step for the planet’s oceans.  

July: Communities across the world feel the heat on July 6, humanity’s hottest day yet

Scientists stated that July 2023 was likely the warmest month overall in the past 120,000 years based on climate data extracted from coral reefs, tree rings, and deep sea sediments. Temperatures of over 120 degrees Fahrenheit plagued large regions of North America, and heat-related deaths and injuries mounted around the world. On July 6, the global average temperature reached 17.08 degrees Celsius – a jump from the previous record of 16.8 degrees Celsius set in 2016. 

August: Hawaii experiences one of the deadliest wildfires in U.S. history

President Joe Biden issued a major disaster declaration in early August after wildfires destroyed the historic city of Lahaina in Maui. Over 100 people lost their lives to the fires and thousands of residents and tourists were forced to evacuate. Since Lahaina is one of the largest tourist destinations in Hawaii, the damages sustained have already taken a harsh toll on the islands’ economy. The fires come after three decades of reduced rainfall in the region, which has been linked to global warming. 

September: Storm Daniel causes devastating flooding in Libya

On September 10, 2023, Storm Daniel arrived in Libya. The severe weather patterns included strong winds and heavy rainfall, leading to large amounts of flooding. Tragically, 4,300 people were killed due to the floods, and 8,500 more were declared missing. People across the country continue to suffer from the loss of health services, schools, and other infrastructure. 

October: Denmark announces plan for country-wide transition to plant-based food systems

The Danish government published the world’s first national agricultural plan centered around plant-based eating in an effort to reduce the country’s climate impacts and promote sustainable agriculture. The legislation includes funding for plant-based protein production and new green requirements for public food tenders. The plan aligns with Danish dietary guidelines and economic goals to grow the plant-based agricultural sector. 

November: The biggest dam removal project in U.S. history begins

Oregon and California’s Klamath River has long been home to three large dams, which greatly diminish the rivers’ salmon populations. In November 2023, after years of protests from local indigenous communities for free-flowing rivers, one of the dams was demolished, with the other two scheduled to come down in the next few years. The Yurok and Karuk tribes, who have historically relied on salmon as a sacred cultural food and have suffered for years due to food shortages, are hopeful that populations will rebound quickly and the river ecosystems will become more resilient to climate change with the restoration of this keystone species. 

December: COP28 finally brings agriculture to the table in climate policy

The COP28, held in Dubai in December, dedicated an entire day’s discussion to the future of agriculture in relation to climate change. This was the first time that agriculture’s impact on the environment had been openly addressed at such a climate conference. Over 160 countries and territories signed a declaration on Sustainable Agriculture, Resilient Food Systems, and Climate Action, showing that food production is being recognized internationally as a top priority for climate planning strategies. 

Since greenhouse gas emissions are predicted to rise by 9% over the next six years, it looks like global temperatures will only continue to climb, and humanity is running out of time to change the trajectory of climate change. However, it’s not too late – if we act fast. With modern technological advancements and increased awareness of environmental threats, we have the potential to make 2024 a turning point for the environment and a step towards a sustainable future. 

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Looking back on a year of climate firsts

2023 was officially the hottest year in human history. The year marked the start of an era of “global boiling” according to UN Secretary General António Guterres. At the same time, major strides were taken in global climate policy and scientific discovery.