In Latest Climate Report, a 'Warning to Humanity'

Earth hit threshold of 1.5 degrees Celsius over an entire year, with hottest January on record
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 8, 2024 10:05 AM CST
Planet Exceeds Key Climate Threshold for a Year
A resident of a riverside community carries food and containers of drinking water after being distributed due to the ongoing drought in Careiro da Varzea, Brazil, on Oct. 24.   (AP Photo/Edmar Barros, File)

World leaders walked away from the 2015 UN Climate Change Conference with the aim to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. We've now hit that threshold over a yearlong period, European climate monitors announced Thursday. February 2023 to January 2024 marked "the highest 12-month global temperature average on record," with an increase of 1.52 degrees Celsius, as reported by the EU's Copernicus Climate Change Service, per Al Jazeera. We haven't permanently breached the threshold laid out in the 2015 Paris Agreement as it's measured over decades. But the past year is a "warning to humanity," scientists say.

"Look what's happened this year with only 1.5 C—we've seen floods, we've seen droughts, we've seen heat waves and wildfires all over the world," Sir Bob Watson, a former chair of the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, tells the BBC. "This far exceeds anything that is acceptable." There's still time to act. A recent UN report found the 1.5-degree Celsius limit could be achieved if countries cut greenhouse gas emissions by 42% by 2030. "Rapid reductions in greenhouse gas emissions are the only way to stop global temperatures increasing," Copernicus Deputy Director Samantha Burgess says in a statement.

But the 12-month average, boosted by the hottest January on record in terms of both land and sea temperature, is a "significant milestone" that "underlines the rapidly shrinking window of time humanity has to make deep emissions cuts and avoid dangerous climate change," Matt Patterson, a postdoctoral research assistant in atmospheric physics at the University of Oxford, tells CNN. If temperatures reach 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, the risks of intense heat waves, sea level rise, and wildlife extinction become much higher, per the BBC. "An extra half a degree ... also greatly increases the risks of passing so-called tipping points"—the collapse of ice sheets, for example—"which, if crossed, could lead to rapid and potentially irreversible changes," per the outlet. (More global warming stories.)

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