Crossing the threshold: Navigating the urgent climate challenge as global temperatures exceed 1.5°C


Crossing the threshold: Navigating the urgent climate challenge as global temperatures exceed 1.5°C


For the first time in recorded history, the global temperature has persistently exceeded the internationally agreed-upon warming threshold of 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) for an entire 12-month period according to the European climate service Copernicus. This announcement follows the record-setting revelation that last month was the warmest ever recorded, with global temperatures reaching 1.66C above the levels of the pre-industrial era. This surge in temperature is part of a disturbing pattern, with the past eight months consecutively setting new highs for average air temperatures.


Between February 2023 to January 2024, the planet’s average temperature was 1.52C higher than what was recorded in the 19th century, surpassing the limit established by the global community in the Paris Agreement of 2015. Although this does not yet indicate a permanent exceedance of this threshold since such breaches are evaluated over longer time spans, it serves as an urgent alert. It signifies that humanity is edging closer to a critical tipping point, at a pace more rapid than previously anticipated.


The year 2023 has been identified as the hottest year on record, exacerbated by the resurgence of El Niño, a climatic event that significantly elevates global temperatures and is expected to continue into 2024. The United Nations warned last year that the planet is on a trajectory to warm significantly beyond 2C, stressing the dwindling timeframe for enacting substantial changes necessary to limit temperature increases. It emphasized the need for enhanced efforts by 2030 to ensure global warming remains below 2C, ideally near 1.5C.


Samantha Burgess, Deputy Director of Copernicus, emphasized the need for urgent climate action. In her words, “Rapid reductions in greenhouse gas emissions are the only way to halt the rise in global temperatures.


Furthermore, last month, the UK’s meteorological service announced that atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) levels are predicted to increase more rapidly in 2024 than what would be aligned with the 1.5C global warming limit. The Met Office forecasts that the annual average CO2 concentration at the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii, which hosts the longest-running CO2 atmospheric record since 1958, will climb by 2.84 parts per million (ppm) from the previous year, reaching a peak of 423.6 ppm.


The relentless climb in CO2 levels, now 50% above pre-industrial times, is attributed to human activities such as fossil fuel combustion, cement production, deforestation, and agriculture. While natural carbon sinks like vegetation and oceans help mitigate some CO2, their effectiveness can fluctuate yearly due to climate variations like those induced by the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO). During El Niño events, for example, CO2 levels tend to rise more sharply. The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has issued a warning that to achieve the 1.5C goal, greenhouse gas emissions must reach their peak by 2025.


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