There are many reasons for hope in 2024, and one of them is plants. New research suggests that the world’s plants may be able to take up more atmospheric CO2 from human activities than previously predicted. ©Smileus/

Now that we’re just two days into January, it probably feels more natural to look back on the year past than to look forward into the 12 months yet to come. But, for a moment, I’m going to ask you to do both.

Let’s go back six months to July 2023. That month has now been confirmed as having had the highest global average temperatures on record—and likely for at least 120,000 years. July 2023 also had the highest-ever ocean surface temperatures. And in another first for last year, global carbon emissions from fossil fuels reached record levels.

Despite those statistics, however, we also have reasons for optimism in 2024 and in the next few years. For example, the rapid adoption of zero-emission electric vehicles could move the U.S. close to an 80% or more drop in transportation greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 from the 2019 level. And something as simple as plants may yet come to our aid, far more than we ever thought possible.


In summer 2023, several hot spells of variable intensities and lengths occurred partly simultaneously in different regions of the Northern Hemisphere.

Record for hottest month ever: July 2023

The first three weeks of July 2023 were the hottest global three-week period so far. The effects of July’s heat were seen across the world. Thousands of tourists fled wildfires on the Greek island of Rhodes, and many more suffered baking heats across the U.S. Southwest. Temperatures in a northwest China township soared as high as 126 degrees Fahrenheit, breaking the national record. U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said of the hot summer, “Climate change is here. It is terrifying. And it is just the beginning. The era of global boiling has arrived.”

Recently, researchers from the Center for Disaster Management and Risk Reduction Technology at Germany’s Karlsruhe Institute of Technology published a study titled Untersuchung der globalen Hitzewelle im Jahr 2023 (Investigation of the Global Heat Wave in 2023). They analyzed the record temperatures reached and people’s exposure to the heat. In Germany, they found that in the summer months of 2023, twice as many people (about 206,000) were exposed to daily temperatures of 95 degrees Fahrenheit and higher than the average from 1980 to 1999. About 7 million people were exposed to daily maximum temperatures higher than 77 degrees Fahrenheit. This represents 40% more than the average number during the years of 1980 to 1999.

The European population’s exposure to heat was the highest in Italy. Here, new records of heat more than 104 degrees Fahrenheit were measured. While only 4,000 people per day had been exposed to such high temperatures from 1980 to 1999, this number increased to more than 127,000 in 2023.

The summer of 2023 has surpassed many temperature records in Italy; but by the end of the century, it may be remembered as a mild one. According to an analysis by the European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service, Rome could have 28 heatwave days on average in 2080 if greenhouse emissions peak around mid-century, and 54 if they continue to grow, doubling by the end of the century. Milan will see a similar trend. ©Olena Znak/

Compared to previous decades, heat exposure during the summer months of 2023 was also much higher in China, Greece, India, Spain and the U.S.

And, in June 2023, global mean ocean surface temperatures were the highest since records began.

Record for most CO2 emissions: 2023

The impacts of climate change are evident all around us. But action to reduce carbon emissions from fossil fuels remains painfully slow, concludes a research team composed of more than 120 scientists from institutions that include England’s University of East Anglia and the University of Exeter, the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich, Germany, Norway’s Center for International Climate Research and 90 other institutions around the world. The team produces the Global Carbon Budget Report, which provides an annual, peer-reviewed update, “building on established methodologies in a fully transparent manner.”


The transportation sector accounts for more than a quarter of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, and about two-thirds of that comes from personal vehicle travel.

Fossil carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions are falling in some regions, including Europe and the U.S., but they are rising overall; and the scientists say global action to cut fossil fuels is not happening fast enough to prevent dangerous climate change. At this time, the annual Global Carbon Budget Report projects fossil CO2 emissions of 36.8 billion tons in 2023, up 1.1% from 2022.

Emissions from land-use changes (such as deforestation) are projected to decrease slightly but are still too high to be offset by current levels of reforestation and afforestation (new forests). The report projects that total global CO2 emissions (from fossil fuels and land-use changes) will be 40.9 billion tons in 2023—about the same as 2022 levels—and part of a 10-year “plateau,” far from the steep reduction in emissions that is urgently needed to meet global climate targets.

The Global Carbon Budget Report team says that it now looks inevitable that we will overshoot the 1.5 degrees Centigrade target of the Paris Agreement. At the current emissions level, the team estimates that there is a 50% chance that global warming will exceed that target consistently (year after year) in about seven years.


Fossil CO2 emissions in China are projected to grow 4% in 2023, partly caused by a delayed rebound from significant COVID-19 lockdowns in the country in 2022.

Of course, this estimate is subject to some uncertainties, primarily due to the unknown, additional warming coming from non-CO2 agents. However, it’s clear, says the team, that the remaining carbon budget—and therefore the time left to meet the 1.5 degrees Centigrade target and avoid the worse impacts of climate change—is running out fast. All countries need to decarbonize their economies faster than they are at present to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.

Other key findings from the 2023 Global Carbon Budget Report include:

• Regional trends vary dramatically. Emissions are projected to increase in India (8.2%) and China (4.0%), and decline in the European Union (-7.4%), the U.S. (-3.0%) and the rest of the world (-0.4%).

About half of all CO2 emitted is absorbed by land and ocean “sinks,” which help to buffer the emissions from human activity. The other half remains in the atmosphere, where it causes climate change. ©EpicStockMedia/

• Global emissions from coal (1.1%), gas (0.5%) and oil (1.5%) are all projected to increase.

• Atmospheric CO2 levels are projected to average 419.3 parts per million in 2023, 51% above preindustrial levels.

• About half of all the CO2 emitted continues to be absorbed by land and ocean “sinks,” with the rest remaining in the atmosphere where it causes climate change.


In 2023, global CO2 emissions from fires have been larger than average. This is partly due to an extreme wildfire season in Canada, where emissions were six to eight times higher than average.

• Global CO2 emissions from fires in 2023 have been larger than the average (based on satellite records since 2003) due to an extreme wildfire season in Canada, where emissions were six to eight times higher than average.

• Current levels of technology-based carbon dioxide removal (excluding nature-based means, such as reforestation) amount to about 0.01 million tons of CO2, more than a million times smaller than current fossil CO2 emissions.

While the latest CO2 data shows that current efforts are not profound or widespread enough to put global emissions on a downward trajectory towards net-zero, some trends in emissions are beginning to budge, showing climate policies can be effective.


Eliminating tailpipe emissions from fossil fuels would be a major factor in reaching the Paris Agreement CO2 emissions target. Therefore, one of the most effective climate policies would be to accelerate zero-emission vehicle adoption.

Record for most dynamic variable in reducing total transportation-related CO2 emissions: ZEVs

And one of the most effective climate policies could be accelerating zero-emission vehicle (ZEV) adoption.

Transportation ranks as the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States and the fastest-growing source of emissions in other parts of the world. In fact, rapidly adopting zero-emission electric vehicles could move the nation close to an 80% or more drop in transportation greenhouse gas emissions from the 2019 level by 2050, according to researchers from the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

The researchers came to that conclusion after running thousands of computer simulations on the steps needed to decarbonize freight and passenger travel, which make up the largest contributor to greenhouse gases. While they advised that “no single technology, policy or behavioral change” is enough by itself to reach the net-zero target, eliminating tailpipe emissions would be a major factor.

Solar power is a renewable and infinite energy source that creates no harmful greenhouse gas emissions. Transition to a clean-power electric grid—along with the rapid adoption of ZEVs—is essential for combatting climate change. ©Diyana Dimitrova/

While most vehicles today burn fossil fuels, a zero-emission vehicle relies on alternate sources of power, such as batteries or hydrogen. In their paper, Exploring Decarbonization Pathways for USA Passenger and Freight Mobility, which appeared in the journal Nature Communications in October 2023, the researchers analyzed in detail 50 deep decarbonization scenarios, showing that rapid adoption of ZEVs is essential alongside a simultaneous transition to a clean electric grid.

Using a model called Transportation Energy and Mobility Pathway Options (TEMPO), the researchers performed more than 2,000 simulations to determine what will be needed to decarbonize freight and passenger travel. They found that the most dynamic variables in reducing total transportation-related emissions are measures to support the transition to ZEVs.

Such measures should include policy changes that require new regulations that encourage the adoption of electric vehicles. Technology solutions should call for continued advancements in batteries, fuel cells and sustainable biofuels, among others. Behavior comes into play in considering shifts in population and travel needs. Someone moving away from an urban core, for example, might have to travel longer distances to work.

Since 2007, Natural Habitat Adventures has been the world’s first 100% carbon-neutral travel company and uses fully electric, solar-charged vehicles on many of its African safaris. ©Kerry de Bruyn

At Natural Habitat Adventures, we have already moved to fully electric, solar-charged vehicles on many of our African safaris and to carbon-neutral travel.

Record year for optimism: 2024

There is other good news on the horizon. New research, published on November 17, 2023, paints an uncharacteristically upbeat picture for our planet. This is because more realistic ecological modeling suggests that the world’s plants may be able to take up more atmospheric CO2 from human activities than previously predicted.

And, on another high note, as recently as November 2023, climate economists at England’s University of Oxford say that the 1.5 degrees Centigrade goal of the Paris Agreement could still be within our reach. They identify key “sensitive intervention points” that could unlock significant progress towards the Paris Agreement with the least risk and highest impact. These include:

• Investing in clean energy technologies with consistent cost declines.

In 2024, let’s truly make our environment the main priority. It may be the last chance we have to do so. Because without clean air and water, nothing else will matter. ©TinnaPong/

• Enacting central bank policies to reduce the value of polluting assets.

• Improving climate-related financial risk disclosure.

So, we’re off to a new year—and to new reasons for making our environment our joint cause, investment and priority for the next 12 months.

Let’s do it this time.

Here’s to finding your true places and natural habitats,