World surpasses key warming threshold across an entire year

A firefighter stands on boulders covered with pink fire retardant while monitoring the Gavilan Fire, which has already burned more than 250 acres in Perris, Riverside County, California, on July 15, 2023.

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Scientists on Thursday said the world surpassed a key warming threshold across an entire year for the first time on record, calling to slash planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions.

The European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S) said the global mean temperature for the 12-month period through to January was 1.52 degrees Celsius above the 1850-1900 pre-industrial average, and 0.64 degrees above the 1991-2020 average.

The findings do not represent a break of the landmark Paris Agreement, which aims to “limit global warming to well below 2, preferably to 1.5 degrees Celsius, compared to pre-industrial levels” over the long term.

But the EU’s climate monitor said the data reinforces the need to rapidly reduce greenhouse gas emissions in order to avoid the worst of what the climate crisis has in store.

C3S also confirmed that the first month of 2024 was the warmest January on record, with an average surface temperature of 13.14 degrees Celsius — some 0.7 degrees Celsius above the 1991-2020 average and 0.12 degrees Celsius higher than the previous warmest January, logged in 2020.

Each of the seven months prior to January also broke heat records for their respective time of the year.

Scientists recently confirmed 2023 as the hottest year on record.

“2024 starts with another record-breaking month — not only is it the warmest January on record but we have also just experienced a 12-month period of more than 1.5°C above the pre-industrial reference period,” Samantha Burgess, deputy director of C3S, said in a statement.

“Rapid reductions in greenhouse gas emissions are the only way to stop global temperatures increasing.”

‘A rapidly shrinking window’

The data comes after repeated warnings that the world remains “massively off track” to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

The 1.5 degrees Celsius threshold is recognized as a crucial long-term target because so-called tipping points become more likely beyond this level. If passed, tipping points can lead to dramatic shifts or potentially irreversible changes to some of Earth’s largest systems.

Matt Patterson, a postdoctoral research assistant in atmospheric physics at the University of Oxford, described the findings of C3S as a “significant milestone,” but cautioned that they do not mean the Paris Agreement has failed.

“A single year above the 1.5C threshold is not enough to breach the Paris climate agreement as the agreement concerns temperatures averaged over 20 to 30 years,” Patterson said.

“However, exceeding 1.5C in one year underlines the rapidly shrinking window of time humanity has to make deep emissions cuts and avoid dangerous climate change.”

A farmstead is seen in a valley with little snow near Prags, Italy, on February 6, 2024.

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The U.N. notes that the world has already warmed by around 1.1 degrees Celsius, fueling a series of extreme weather events around the world.

Brian Hoskins, chair of the Grantham Institute at Imperial College London, said the C3S findings were a “stark warning of the urgency for the action that is required to limit climate change at anything like the Paris targets.”


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