According to Copernicus, the European Union’s climate service, global warming has exceeded the 1.5C threshold across an entire year, marking the first time that this has happened.
Between February 2023 and January 2024, the global mean temperature was 1.52C above the 1850-1900 pre-industrial average.
Although significant, this first breach of 1.5C does not mean that the Paris agreement has failed, it does mean that more climate action is urgently required.
‘We must avoid doomism’
Professor Piers Forster, director of the Priestley Centre for Climate Futures and professor of physical climate change at the University of Leeds, as well as interim chair of the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), told Yorkshire Bylines:
“We are already seeing some of the impacts of a global temperature rise of 1.5C. Just these last weeks have seen deaths from wildfires in Chile, flooding in California, and drought and abnormally high temperatures in parts of Europe.
“However, we must avoid doomism. Rapidly transitioning away from fossil fuels can halve the rate of warming and we can build greater climate resilience into our societies to reduce harm. Yet action around the world needs to accelerate to match the threat level.”
‘Political parties are detached from reality’
With the Labour Party in the United Kingdom announcing yesterday that they are ditching their £28bn green investment pledge, and the Conservatives delaying several of their key targets in September of last year, scientists fear that this lack of political direction is cause for concern.
Professor Bill McGuire, author of Hothouse Earth and emeritus professor of geophysical and climate hazards at University College London, spoke in blunt terms when he told Yorkshire Bylines:
“In a way, it’s serendipitous that Labour announced the ditching of its flagship green investment deal on the very day that confirmation arrived of our world topping 1.5C for a 12-month period, for the first time. The near-simultaneous disclosures demonstrate just how detached the climate policies of the two main parties are from reality. The idea that we can’t afford to act to effectively tackle the climate emergency is simply nonsensical.
“The truth is that unless the economy and society are reconfigured, both to slash emissions and to prepare for the climate mayhem that is already locked-in, we are going to be in deep, deep sh*t in the decades ahead.”
‘World leaders still don’t care’
This blunt view was also reflected by NASA climate scientist, Peter Kalmus, who laid the blame squarely on the fossil fuel industry, as well as the inability of governments to regulate the industry’s actions.
Speaking personally, and not commenting on behalf of the administration, Kalmus told Yorkshire Bylines:
“This is a nightmare, and the worst part is that world leaders still don’t care. The cause of this excess heat and all the intensifying deadly impacts is the fossil fuel industry. This is a dishonest, planet-destroying industry.
“Executives who have participated in the industry’s dishonesty need to be in prison, and the entire industry needs to be nationalised and ramped down through an urgent, equitable transition. The sooner this happens, the better for humanity.”
1.5C threshold: understanding the comparison point
Professor Michael Mann, distinguished professor of atmospheric science at Penn State and creator of the famous ‘hockey stick’ graph, told Yorkshire Bylines that an understanding of the starting comparison point was vital in any discussion of rising global temperatures.
“A bit of scepticism is warranted here. In my view, it begs credulity to claim that the instrumental record is wrong based on paleo-sponges from one region of the world. It honestly doesn’t make any sense to me.
“That having been said, as I noted below, our own earlier work in Nature Climate Change does indeed support the notion that there was probably at least an additional 0.2C of warming before the late 19th century, which is the typical baseline relative to which 1.5C and 2C warming thresholds are defined.
“On the other hand, I do think we’ve come to understand that the adoption of a late 19th century baseline really is implicit when we’re talking about those thresholds anyway, so it’s sort of a moot point.”
Fast and effective climate action needed this decade
However, there may be some green shoots of climate action, with the European Union laying out their plan recently to be the first climate-neutral continent – a pledge which will hopefully galvanise action from others. Their plan involves reducing greenhouse emissions by 90% by 2040 – which still is at the bottom end of the 90-95% cuts which were recommended.
In a statement published only a few days ago, the UK government announced that they were the first major economy to halve its emissions. They stated that they had “cut them by 50% between 1990 and 2022, while also growing its economy by 79%”.
With global temperatures continuing to rise and 2024 looking set to be another year of record-breaking climate events, global climate actions must be accelerated to meet the threat level.