For the first time, global warming has exceeded 1.5C across an entire year, according to the EU’s climate service.
World leaders promised in 2015 to try to limit the long-term temperature rise to 1.5C, which is seen as crucial to help avoid the most damaging impacts.
This first year-long breach doesn’t break that landmark Paris agreement, but it does bring the world closer to doing so in the long-term.
Urgent action to cut carbon emissions can still slow warming, scientists say.
“This far exceeds anything that is acceptable,” Prof Sir Bob Watson, a former chair of the UN’s climate body, told the BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme.
“Look what’s happened this year with only 1.5C – we’ve seen floods, we’ve seen droughts, we’ve seen heatwaves and wildfires all over the world.”
The period from February 2023 to January 2024 reached 1.52C of warming, according to the EU’s Copernicus Climate Change Service. The following graph shows how that compares with previous years.
The latest climate warning comes amid news that the Labour Party is ditching its policy of spending £28bn a year on its green investment plan in a major U-turn. The Conservatives also pushed back on some key targets in September.
This means the UK’s two main parties have scaled back the type of pledges that many climate scientists say are needed globally if the worst impacts of warming are to be avoided.
The world’s sea surface is also at its highest ever recorded average temperature – yet another sign of the widespread nature of climate records. As the chart below shows, it’s particularly notable given that ocean temperatures don’t normally peak for another month or so.
Science groups differ slightly on precisely how much temperatures have increased, but all agree that the world is in by far its warmest period since modern records began – and likely for much longer.
Limiting long-term warming to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels – before humans started burning large amounts of fossil fuels – has become a key symbol of international efforts to tackle climate change.
A landmark UN report in 2018 said that the risks from climate change – such as intense heatwaves, rising sea-levels and loss of wildlife – were much higher at 2C of warming than at 1.5C. (BBC)