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Critical 1.5°C warming limit crossed for first time, scientists say

Author : Sophia Bell, Group Editor, DPA

08 February 2024

2023 was the hottest year on record, exceeding the 1.5°C warming threshold set forth in the Paris Agreement.

(Image: Shutterstock)
(Image: Shutterstock)

According to data from the EU’s Copernicus Climate Change Service (CS3), the period from February 2023 to January 2024 saw global temperatures soar to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, setting a new record for the highest 12-month global temperature average ever recorded.

This unprecedented rise in temperatures has been attributed to a combination of human activities, particularly the burning of fossil fuels.

The consequences of this breach are already evident, with extreme weather events such as storms, droughts, wildfires, and heatwaves have ravaged communities across the globe. According to scientists, such events serve as stark reminders of the urgent need for decisive action to mitigate further warming and its associated consequences.

"We are touching 1.5°C and we see the cost – the social costs and economic costs," said Johan Rockstrom, of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.

"1.5 is a very big number and it hurts us really badly in terms of heat waves, droughts, floods, reinforced storms, water scarcity across the entire world. That is what 2023 has taught us."

The Paris Agreement, signed by nearly 200 governments in 2015, aimed to limit global warming to well below 2°C, with efforts to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. While this latest breach does not signal a permanent deviation from this target, it underscores the pressing need for immediate and concerted efforts to mitigate further warming.

The news comes following decisions by both of the UK’s leading political parties to scale back their net zero commitments. Back in September 2023, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced a U-turn in the country’s approach to sustainability, including postponing the ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars from 2030 to 2035, and weakening the phaseout of fossil fuel boilers. Meanwhile, on the same day that CS3’s data was revealed (8 February), the leader of the opposition, Keir Starmer, announced that the Labour Party’s £28 billion green investment pledge would be scrapped.

Recent trends indicate that the world is not on track to meet its net zero goals, with a study published in Nature Climate Change last year finding that, at the current rate of emissions, the world will exceed its 1.5°C target in the long term by about 2029. 

The scientific community warns that the window of opportunity to prevent catastrophic climate change is rapidly closing. Failure to do so risks irreversible damage to the planet's ecosystems, exacerbation of extreme weather events, and heightened risks to human health, food security, and economic stability.

“Rapid reductions in greenhouse gas emissions are the only way to stop global temperatures increasing,” C3S Deputy Director Samantha Burgess said.


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