A section of a parched river bed is seen along the Yangtze River in Jiujiang in China's central Jiangxi province on August 19, 2022.
Giant ice cubes? China residents use extreme measures to cool from heat
03:40 - Source: CNN

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Hong Kong CNN  — 

China saw its hottest year on record in 2023, state media reported this week, as the world’s biggest polluter confronted a series of relentless heat waves and other extreme weather events driven by the human-caused climate crisis.

Daily and monthly temperature records were repeatedly shattered as the year wore on while the country grappled with scorching heat waves, which authorities said had arrived earlier and been more widespread and extreme than in previous years.

China’s exceptional warmth echoed global trends – with scientists confirming that 2023 will officially be the hottest year on record, the result of the combined effects of El Niño and climate change.

The average temperature in China last year stood at 10.7 degrees Celsius – the highest since records began in 1961, according to the National Climate Center, state-run news agency Xinhua reported.

It breaks the previous record of 10.5°C set in 2021.

Across the country, 127 weather stations recorded their highest ever daily temperatures, state-run newspaper China Daily reported.

The highest of those was 52.2°C on July 16 in Turpan’s Sanpu town, in the far western Xinjiang region.

The prolonged and persistent heat affected hundreds of millions of people and put huge strain on the country’s power grid. In July, China Energy Investment Corporation, one of the world’s largest generators of coal-fired power, said the volume of electricity it produced had hit a daily record.

There were also reports of farm animals, including pigs, rabbits and fish, dying from the searing temperatures and wheat fields in central China being flooded by heavy rainfall, raising concerns about food security in the world’s second largest economy.

A similar story played out across the world in 2023, with a series of deadly heat waves and remarkable record temperatures hitting several continents, while unprecedented ocean heat blanketed much of the globe.

Analysis from the European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service found 2023’s global temperature will be more than 1.4 degrees Celsius warmer than pre-industrial levels — close to the 1.5-degree threshold in the Paris climate agreement, and beyond which scientists say humans and ecosystems will struggle to adapt.

Extreme highs and lows

At the other end of the scale, China also recorded its lowest ever temperature last year on January 22, when Jintao town in Mohe, northeastern Heilongjiang province dropped to -53° C.

And in December, the capital Bejing recorded its longest cold wave since records began in 1951, as sub-zero temperatures stretched heating capacity of some cities in northern China to its limit.

China’s extreme weather also saw some of the heaviest rainfall in decades, with flooding bringing devastation to millions of people’s lives and causing billions of dollars in damage.

A total of 55 national weather stations recorded their highest daily rainfall in 2023, according to the National Climate Center.