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Average temperature hits 2°C mark again, signalling why climate crisis looms

The world has witnessed a historic milestone in global warming, as the average surface temperature reached 2°C above preindustrial

By Wahid Bhat
New Update
Average temperature hits 2°C mark again, signalling why climate crisis looms

The world has witnessed a historic milestone in global warming, as the average surface temperature reached 2°C above preindustrial levels for the first time on record, according to data from the European Center for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF).

A combination of surface temperature readings from land and ocean sources and a computer model that uses algorithms to fill in the gaps and provide a near-real-time estimate of the global temperature showed that Friday, November 17, and Saturday, November 18, 2023, represented the first two days in history where the global mean temperature exceeded 2°C above the 1850-1900 baseline. This baseline is commonly used as a proxy for preindustrial conditions.

The previous record for the highest global temperature anomaly was 1.8°C, which was set in September 2023, the hottest month ever recorded. The new record is provisional and subject to adjustment for accuracy, but it is consistent with the long-term trend of rising temperatures driven by human-caused greenhouse gas emissions.

Apart from this, The month of February 2024 witnessed average surface temperature for the first 12 days of the month was 1.95°C above the preindustrial levels, according to the data from the ECMWF. This is a significant increase from the previous years, and it indicates that the world is experiencing the effects of human-induced climate change.

Global temperature hits 2°C

The 2°C threshold is significant because it is the upper limit of the Paris Agreement, the global pact to limit global warming to well below 2°C, preferably 1.5°C, above preindustrial levels by the end of the century. Nearly 200 countries signed the agreement in 2015, aiming to prevent the worst impacts of climate change, such as sea level rise, extreme weather events, biodiversity loss, and food insecurity.

However, the agreement does not refer to a single day, month, or year, but to a long-term average over two or more decades. Therefore, just because the 2°C mark has been breached for two days, it doesn't mean we have missed the Paris Agreement's goal. However, it does show that the world is dangerously close to exceeding it.

Global temperature exceeds 2°C above pre-industrial average. Graphic Credit: ERAS

Samantha Burgess, the deputy director of the Copernicus Climate Change Service, which is part of the ECMWF, announced the new record on X, formerly known as Twitter, on Sunday. She wrote: “Our best estimate is that this was the first day when global temperature was more than 2°C above 1850-1900 (or pre-industrial) levels, at 2.06°C.” She also noted the Saturday record in a post on Monday, stating: “Now two Nov 2023 days where global temperature exceeded 2°C in ERA5.”

Factors: Climate change, El Niño

ERA5 is the name of the dataset that shows the record, which has a high spatial resolution, which means it can capture regional variations and extremes. The ECMWF also released a map showing the global surface air temperatures on November 17 and 18, 2023, compared to preindustrial levels.

The map showed that most regions of the world were warmer than usual, with some areas experiencing anomalies of more than 10°C above the baseline. The map also showed that the Arctic region was particularly warm, with temperatures above freezing in some parts.

2 degrees will be much worse than 1.5 in some places. Photo Credit: CarbonBrief

Several factors, such as the ongoing human-induced climate change, the natural variability of the climate system, and the presence of a strong El Niño event in the tropical Pacific Ocean, influenced the record-breaking temperature. El Niño is a periodic phenomenon that occurs when the surface waters of the eastern Pacific become warmer than normal, affecting the atmospheric circulation and weather patterns around the world. El Niño tends to increase the global temperature by releasing heat from the ocean to the atmosphere.

However, El Niño alone cannot explain the unprecedented warmth of 2023. People have observed a long-term trend of rising temperatures since the Industrial Revolution, which is part of this warmth.

Recent years hottest on record

According to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), the past seven years, from 2017 to 2023, have been the hottest seven years on record, and the past decade, from 2014 to 2023, has been the hottest decade on record. The WMO also reported that the global average temperature for the 12 months leading to February 2024 was 1.52°C above the preindustrial average, the highest ever recorded.

The record-high temperature has serious implications for the environment and human society, as it increases the risks of extreme weather events, such as heat waves, droughts, floods, storms, wildfires, and hurricanes, which can cause deaths, injuries, displacement, and damage to infrastructure, agriculture, and ecosystems.

Global Surface temperature Anomaly vs. pre-industrial baseline. Graphic credit: Copernicus climate change service

The record-high temperature also accelerates the melting of ice sheets and glaciers, which contributes to sea level rise and threatens the livelihoods of millions of people living in coastal areas. Moreover, the record-high temperature affects the biodiversity and functioning of natural systems, such as coral reefs, forests, wetlands, and oceans, which provide essential services and resources for human well-being.

Climate action urgent, impacts evident

The record-high temperature also highlights the urgency of taking action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and limit global warming to the levels agreed in the Paris Agreement. According to the latest report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the world needs to cut emissions by 45% by 2030 and reach net zero by 2050 to have a 50% chance of keeping warming below 1.5°C.

However, countries' current pledges and actions do not suffice to achieve this goal, and the world is tracking toward a more than 3°C warming by the end of the century, unless we take drastic measures.

The record-high temperature also underscores the need for adaptation and resilience to cope with the impacts of climate change that are already occurring and will worsen in the future.

The report released last week by the US Global Change Research Program showed the ways that climate change is already wreaking havoc on the US, such as increasing the frequency and intensity of wildfires, hurricanes, heat waves, and droughts, affecting the health, economy, and security of millions of Americans.

Keep Reading

Global temperature spikes above 2°C for first time, scientists warn of climate risks

Climate change will increase wildfire risk and lengthen fire seasons

Asia's risk of humid heat waves rises 30 times with climate change

El Niño could raise temperatures globally later this year

2024 can beat the record heat of 2023 due to El Niño: WMO

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