The Earth’s climate has reached a concerning milestone, as data shared by Samantha Burgess, deputy director of the Copernicus Climate Change Service, indicates that the global average temperature briefly exceeded 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. This critical threshold, which scientists have long warned about, has significant implications for the planet and its ecosystems.
While this temperature spike is temporary, it serves as a stark reminder of the Earth’s ongoing warming trend, moving us closer to a point where reversing climate crisis impacts becomes increasingly challenging, if not impossible. Burgess noted in her findings that the global temperature reached 2.06°C above the 1850-1900 pre-industrial benchmark.
Comparatively, the global temperature on that day averaged 1.17 degrees above the 1991-2020 levels, making it the warmest November 17 on record. However, when measured against pre-industrial times, before widespread fossil fuel burning altered the Earth’s natural climate, the temperature was 2.06 degrees warmer.
This breach of the 2-degree mark occurred just two weeks before the UN COP28 climate conference in Dubai. At this event, countries will evaluate their progress towards the Paris Climate Agreement’s objective of limiting global warming to 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels, with an ambitious target of 1.5 degrees.
Samantha Burgess clarified that this single day above 2 degrees does not mean that the Paris Agreement has been violated, but it emphasizes our approach to those internationally agreed-upon limits. Expectations are for more frequent occurrences of 1.5 and 2-degree days in the future, with the data from Copernicus being preliminary and needing confirmation through real-life observations.
Currently, the world is on track to exceed 1.5 degrees of warming on a longer-term basis in the coming years. This threshold poses significant challenges for both human societies and ecosystems. A recent UN report highlighted that, even if nations adhere to their current emissions-reduction pledges, global warming could reach between 2.5 and 2.9 degrees by the end of this century.
However, it’s crucial to understand that every fraction of a degree above 1.5 worsens the impacts. A 2-degree increase puts a larger portion of the global population at risk of deadly extreme weather events and heightens the likelihood of reaching irreversible tipping points, such as polar ice sheet collapse and mass coral reef die-offs.
Richard Allan, a climate science professor at the University of Reading, described this breach as a “canary in the coal mine” and stressed the urgency of addressing greenhouse gas emissions. He also noted that surpassing 2 degrees occasionally was expected before the long-term breach of the 2-degree Celsius target.
This data follows a year marked by extreme weather events, all exacerbated by the climate crisis, including wildfires in Hawaii, floods in northern Africa, and storms in the Mediterranean, resulting in loss of life. Scientists increasingly express concern that temperature data is exceeding their predictions.
Several recent reports examining the state of the Earth’s climate and human efforts to combat it indicate that the planet is heading toward dangerous levels of warming, with insufficient mitigation and adaptation measures in place. A UN report highlighted that, according to countries’ climate plans, planet-heating pollution in 2030 will still be 9% higher than 2010 levels, falling far short of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s recommended 45% emissions reduction by the end of the decade. Furthermore, countries are planning to exceed the fossil fuel production limit necessary to limit global heating to 1.5 degrees Celsius. By 2030, they intend to produce more than double the allowable limit for achieving this goal.