2024 set to break heat records: Global average temperature surpasses 1.5°C for 12 months straight

New data from the Copernicus Climate Change Service reveals the longest stretch above the 1.5-degree threshold, signaling unprecedented climate change and urgent need for action.

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New data from the Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S) reveals that the global average temperature from June 2023 to May 2024 was 1.63 degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial average, marking the hottest period on record. This period also represents the longest stretch of time that the global temperature has remained above the 1.5-degree threshold set by the Paris Agreement.

In May, the average ocean surface temperature reached 69.6 degrees Fahrenheit, the highest ever recorded for the month. This was the fourteenth consecutive month of record-setting sea surface temperatures. “The climate continues to alarm us,” said Samantha Burgess, C3S deputy director. “The last 12 months have broken records like never before, caused primarily by our greenhouse gas emissions and an added boost from the El Niño event in the tropical Pacific. Until we reach net-zero global emissions, the climate will continue to warm, will continue to break records, and will continue to produce ever more extreme weather events.”

The findings do not necessarily mean that the Paris Agreement goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius has been breached, as this target is measured by long-term averages rather than single years. However, the trend indicates more extreme heat and climate-fueled weather events, as well as the risk of disastrous tipping points. “Even if this specific streak of extremes ends at some point, we are bound to see new records being broken as the climate continues to warm,” said Carlo Buontempo, C3S director. “This is inevitable unless we stop adding greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and the oceans.”

The data suggests that 2024 could surpass 2023 as the hottest year on record. Zeke Hausfather, a research scientist at Berkeley Earth, estimates there is a 95% chance that 2024 will be the warmest year since global surface temperature records began in the mid-1800s.

The temperature anomalies were most pronounced in northern parts of the globe, particularly in Europe. Southeast and southwest Europe, including parts of Russia, experienced below-average temperatures, highlighting regional variations in climate impacts. Outside Europe, temperatures were most above average in eastern Canada, the western United States, Mexico, Brazil, northern Siberia, the Middle East, northern Africa, and western Antarctica.

The implications of this sustained temperature rise are profound. Extreme weather events have already caused significant loss of life and property around the world. More than 1,000 people died during the Hajj pilgrimage last month due to intense heat. New Delhi endured an unprecedentedly long heatwave, resulting in numerous fatalities, and heat-related deaths were also recorded among tourists in Greece.

The impact of global warming on ecosystems is equally alarming. The United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has reported that warming of 1.5 degrees Celsius and above will decimate 70 to 90 percent of tropical coral reefs. “It is not 1.5C or death – every 0.1C matters a great deal because we’re talking about global average temperatures, which translate into massive temperature gaps locally,” said François Gemenne, an IPCC author and director of the University of Liège’s Hugo Observatory. Gemenne stressed that even if the best possible warming scenario is achieved, people must enhance their adaptation strategies.

Societal impacts of climate change are severe, particularly for vulnerable communities. Frontline communities, including Black, Latine, Asian, Indigenous, and low-income populations, face the highest rates of asthma and cancer while also suffering the most from extreme weather events. The economic costs of climate change are significant, with substantial investments needed for adaptation and resilience.

Activists and organizations are calling for urgent action to address the climate crisis. Amnesty International climate adviser Ann Harrison emphasized the need to phase out fossil fuels and increase climate finance. Antonia Juhasz, a senior researcher on fossil fuels at Human Rights Watch, highlighted the role of fossil fuel burning in intensifying heatwaves and other extreme weather events.

Long-term climate projections indicate that without drastic emission reductions, global temperatures could rise significantly by the end of the century. The Guardian surveyed hundreds of IPCC authors earlier this year, finding that three-quarters expect Earth to heat by at least 2.5°C by the end of this century, with half predicting temperatures to rise above 3°C by 2100. “It is a crisis,” said Aditi Mukherji, an IPCC co-author, “and one that has a clear solution, given that burning fossil fuels is the leading cause of global heating.”

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