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Climate Scientists Record First 12-Month Stretch Over 1.5 Degrees Celsius Target

The UN says that world leaders must curb emissions by 42 percent by 2030 to abide by the Paris climate agreement.

The sun filters through smoke from a brush fire about 300 acres, fueled by Santa Ana winds, dubbed the South Fire and triggered evacuations in the Somis area near Santa Paula, in Somis, California, on December 9, 2023.

The first month of 2024 was the hottest January on record, the European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service and European Center for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts announced Thursday.

That makes January the eighth month in a row to see its average surface air temperature surpass historic temperatures for that month and the 12th month in a row to see it rise past 1.5°C above the 1850-1900 average. January therefore caps the first 12-month period in which the average temperature surpassed the 1.5°C target enshrined in the Paris agreement.

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 preindustrial reference period,” Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S) deputy director Samantha Burgess said in a statement.Rapid reductions in greenhouse gas emissions are the only way to stop global temperatures increasing.”

The average air surface temperature last month rose to 13.14°C, 0.70°C above the 1991-2020 January average and 1.66°C above the preindustrial January average. It was also 0.12°C above the previous record-warm January, in 2020.

January’s temperature means that the past 12 months, from February 2023 to January 2024, were the warmest on record, at 0.64°C above average for 1991-2020 and 1.52°C above the preindustrial average. On a regional level, eastern Canada, north-western Africa, the Middle East, and central Asia all saw hotter-than-average Januaries.

The average global sea surface temperature at 60°S-60°N also broke records for January at 20.97°C, 0.26°C above the previous warmest January temperature in 2016. C3S also noted that the sea surface temperature between 60°S-60°N continued to climb in early February, breaking the previous all-time record set in August of last year.

2023 was the hottest year both on record and in around 125,000 years of history due primarily to the climate crisis driven by deforestation and the burning of fossil fuels. Temperatures were spiked further by the emergence of a warming El Niño weather pattern. Now, January has capped off a new 12-month period of historic weather.

“It is a significant milestone to see the global mean temperature for a 12-month period exceed 1.5°C above preindustrial temperatures for the first time,” University of Oxford atmospheric physicist Matt Patterson told Reuters.

Even a year above 1.5°C does not mean the Paris target has been permanently breached, since it refers to averages over decades. Scientists predict a longer-term breach could happen between 2030 and the early 2050s.

Still, former Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change chair Bob Watson told BBC Radio 4′s “Today” program that the last 12 months far exceeds anything that is acceptable.”

“Look what’s happened this year with only 1.5°C,” Watson said, “we’ve seen floods, we’ve seen droughts, we’ve seen heatwaves and wildfires all over the world.”

Despite decades of warnings from climate scientists, the burning of fossil fuels released record levels of carbon pollution into the atmosphere in 2023, according to the Global Carbon Project.

Texas A&M University climate scientist Andrew Dessler told The Washington Post that a year above 1.5°C was both “disturbing and not disturbing.”

“After all, if you stick your finger in a light socket and get shocked, it’s bad news, sure, but what did you expect?” Dessler asked.

The United Nations says that world leaders must curb emissions by 42% by 2030 to keep the 1.5°C goal alive, though some scientists say it is now likely out of reach. That doesn’t mean acting quickly to phase out oil, gas, and coal won’t make a difference, however.

“1.5°C is so dead,” NASA climate scientist Peter Kalmus said on social media. “But remember: Every extra bit of fossil fuel burnt makes the planet a little irreversibly hotter making all impacts worse. Arbitrary thresholds are not as important as ending the cause of this nightmare: the fossil fuel industry.”

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