Global warming surpassed 1.5 degrees Celsius over the past 12 months for the first time on record, new data shows, breaching a critical threshold that, if it continues, will push the limits of life on Earth to adapt.
The past year was 1.52 degrees hotter on average than temperatures before industrialization, according to data from Copernicus, the European Union’s climate and weather monitoring service. That 12-month average was boosted by the hottest January on record, which was 1.66 degrees warmer than the average January temperature in pre-industrial times.
Keeping global warming below 2 degrees, but preferably 1.5, was the centerpiece goal of the Paris Agreement, which most of the world’s nations signed onto in 2015.
Scientists are more concerned with multi-year warming above these thresholds, but the 12-month record shows the world is fast approaching the Paris Agreement’s limits.
Matt Patterson, a postdoctoral research assistant in atmospheric physics at the University of Oxford, said the record was a “significant milestone,” but didn’t mean the Paris Agreement had failed.
“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.”
Heat records on land and sea have tumbled over the past year. The last eight months in a row have been the hottest such months on record, Copernicus said, while 2023 was the hottest calendar year.
The average global sea surface temperature for January was also the hottest on record for that month by a large margin: 0.26 degrees warmer than the previous record, set in 2016.
“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,” Copernicus Deputy Director Samantha Burgess said in a statement. “Rapid reductions in greenhouse gas emissions are the only way to stop global temperatures increasing.”
The climate crisis is driven primarily from humans burning coal, oil and gas for energy. El Niño, a natural climate pattern that originates in the Pacific Ocean, has also boosted temperatures in much of the world in recent months.
Extreme weather events already made more frequent and severe by long-term global warming are now being supercharged by El Niño, scientists say. The combination of the two has proved particularly destructive.
More than 160 wildfires that spread over an area of Chile this week have killed more than 120 people and reduced entire neighborhoods to ashes, making them the deadliest blazes in the country’s recent history.
The twin threat also supercharged the California storms this week, scientists said, enhancing rainfall and boosting the storm’s destructive power.