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Hottest January on record pushes 12-month global average temps over 1.5 degree threshold for first time ever

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The world just had its hottest year ever recorded, and 2024 has already set a new heat record for the warmest January ever observed, according to the European Union’s climate change monitoring service Copernicus. 

The service said that January 2024 had a global average air temperature of 13.14 degrees Celsius, or 55.65 degrees Fahrenheit. That temperature was 0.70 degrees Celsius above the 1991 to 2020 average for the month and 0.12 degrees Celsius above the last warmest January, in 2020. 

It was also 1.66 degrees Celsius warmer than the pre-industrial average for the month. 

pr-fig1-map-1month-anomaly-global-ea-2t-202401-1991-2020-v02-1.png
Surface air temperature anomaly for January 2024 relative to the January average for the period 1991-2020. Data source: ERA5

Copernicus Climate Change Service/ECMWF


“2024 starts with another record-breaking month,” Samantha Burgess, deputy director of the Copernicus Climate Change Service, said in a news release announcing the findings. “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.” 

The news from Copernicus comes just weeks after the agency confirmed that 2023 shattered global heat records. Those record temperatures were linked to deadly heat, droughts and wildfires that devastated countries around the world. The rise in global temperatures is fuelling the extreme weather, helping feed storms that spawn hurricanes and bring massive precipitation events that flood developed areas

“This far exceeds anything that is acceptable,” Bob Watson, a former chair of the United Nations International Panel on Climate Change, told CBS News partner network BBC News.

“Look what’s happened this year with only 1.5 degrees Celsius: We’ve seen floods, we’ve seen droughts, we’ve seen heatwaves and wildfires all over the world, and we’re starting to see less agricultural productivity and some problems with water quality and quantity,” Watson said.

A landmark U.N. report published in 2018 said the risks of extreme consequences of climate change would be much higher if global warming exceeded the 1.5 degree threshold. Most of the warming stems from the build-up of greenhouse gases in the Earth’s atmosphere, largely emitted from the burning of fossil fuels, such as coal and oil.

While the news is a dire warning about the state of the planet, scientists said it would take multiple years of surpassing the 1.5-degree mark for the world to officially be considered in the new era of climate change associated with the threshold. 

“This report does not mean that we will permanently exceed the 1.5C level specified in the Paris Agreement, which refers to long-term warming over many years,” World Meteorological Organization Secretary-General Petteri Taalas said last year. “However, WMO is sounding the alarm that we will breach the 1.5C level on a temporary basis with increasing frequency.” 

In December, climate negotiators from around the world agreed at COP28 that countries must transition away from fossil fuels. The deal aims to usher in that transition in a manner that achieves net zero greenhouse gas emissions over the next 26 years, in part by calling for the expanded use of renewable energy. 

The plan, however, “includes cavernous loopholes that allow the United States and other fossil fuel producing countries to keep going on their expansion of fossil fuels,” Center for Biological Diversity energy justice director Jean Su told The Associated Press in December. “That’s a pretty deadly, fatal flaw in the text.” 

Upon the news that January had marked yet another heat record, Burgess, with the EU’s Copernicus service, reiterated the call for limiting the use of fossil fuels, saying it’s essential to limit the rapid warming the world is experiencing.

“Rapid reductions in greenhouse gas emissions are the only way to stop global temperatures increasing,” she said. 

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