Earth briefly surpasses 2-degree warming limit, prompting urgent alarm from scientists, according to preliminary data released by Samantha Burgess, deputy director of the Copernicus Climate Change Service in Europe. While this breach of the 2-degree mark was temporary, it serves as an alarming indication of the planet's continuous warming trend.
Although it does not signify a permanent state of sustained warming above 2 degrees, it underscores the Earth's trajectory towards a more prolonged period where the impacts of the climate crisis may become increasingly challenging, if not impossible, to reverse.
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.- Samantha Burgess
In her statement, Burgess noted that global temperatures on the recorded Friday averaged 1.17 degrees above the levels observed from 1991 to 2020, marking it as the warmest November 17 on record. However, when compared to the pre-industrial era, a time before significant human-induced alterations to the climate through widespread fossil fuel combustion, the temperature was notably higher, registering at 2.06 degrees above pre-industrial levels.
This breach of the 2-degree threshold occurred just two weeks before the commencement of the UN COP28 climate conference in Dubai. The conference serves as a critical moment for nations to evaluate their progress in meeting the commitments outlined in the Paris Climate Agreement. The agreement aims to limit global warming to 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels, with an even more ambitious target of restricting it to 1.5 degrees.
Burgess stated that a single day exceeding 2 degrees of warming "does not mean that the Paris Agreement has been breached," but underscores the proximity to the internationally agreed-upon limits. She emphasized that there is an anticipation of a growing frequency of days surpassing 1.5 and 2 degrees in the upcoming months and years. It's essential to note that the data from Copernicus is preliminary and will necessitate several weeks for confirmation through real-life observations.
Looking ahead, the world appears to be on a trajectory to consistently surpass 1.5 degrees of warming in the coming years. This threshold is considered critical, as beyond it, scientists warn that both humans and ecosystems will face significant challenges.
"I think while we should not read too much into a single day above 2C, it’s a startling sign nonetheless of the level of extreme global temperatures we are experiencing in 2023," Zeke Hausfather, a climate scientist with Stripe and Berkeley Earth, said.
A boy carrying water collected from a natural spring during a heat wave in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
According to a UN report released on Monday, even if countries fulfill their current commitments to reduce emissions, the world is projected to experience warming between 2.5 and 2.9 degrees at some point in this century.
While 1.5 degrees is not a definitive threshold for the Earth, each increment above it intensifies the severity of impacts. Warming to 2 degrees elevates the risk for a larger portion of the population to face deadly extreme weather events and increases the likelihood of the planet reaching irreversible tipping points. These tipping points include scenarios like the collapse of polar ice sheets and widespread coral reef degradation.
Describing the breach as a "canary in the coalmine," Richard Allan, a professor of climate science at the University of Reading in the UK, emphasized that it underscores the critical need for urgent action in addressing greenhouse gas emissions.
It was entirely expected that single days will surpass 2 degrees above pre-industrial well before the actual 2 degrees Celsius target is breached over many years.- Richard Allan
The latest data follows the hottest 12 months on record and a year marked by extreme weather events, all exacerbated by the climate crisis. These events include wildfires in Hawaii, floods in northern Africa, and storms in the Mediterranean, all of which have tragically claimed lives.
Scientists are expressing growing concern as temperature data surpasses their earlier predictions. Recent assessments examining the state of the Earth's climate and global efforts to address it indicate an alarming trajectory toward dangerous levels of warming. The planet appears to be inadequately responding to and preparing for the impacts of climate change.
A UN report released last week revealed that, based on countries' climate plans, planet-heating pollution in 2030 is projected to be 9% higher than it was in 2010. This contradicts the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's recommendation to reduce emissions by 45% by the end of this decade compared to 2010 to have a chance of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. A 9% increase indicates a significant deviation from that target.
Additionally, another UN report highlights that the world is on course to exceed the production limit for fossil fuels necessary to cap global heating. By 2030, countries plan to produce more than twice the limit of fossil fuels required to restrain warming at 1.5 degrees.