World exceeds 1.5°C for past 12 months

The European Union’s top climate change research group has confirmed the planet’s temperatures have exceeded an average of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels for a whole year.

The Copernicus Climate Change Service is the European space program’s earth observation mission, which uses data from 7 orbiting satellites to understand characteristics of the planet’s climate and Earth processes.

Firefighters try to extinguish a fire.
Wildfires have raged in populated areas of Chile and elsewhere in South America through January. Credit: Xinhua via Getty Images

But while the Earth spent the last 12 months above the 1.5°C threshold set out in the Paris Climate Agreement, it doesn’t mean that limit has been permanently breached. For climate targets, scientists use decade-long timescales to compare current global averages to pre-industrial temperatures.

Copernicus’ Climate Bulletin also found last month was the warmest January on record. Since June, every month has been the warmest on record for all their corresponding months.

This year appears poised to be another record-breaking year for global temperatures amid an ongoing El Niño climate pattern. Sea surface temperature charts released by Copernicus show a substantial increase compared to the same time last year.

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Among other observations in January, Copernicus found sea ice in the Arctic was around average levels, but remained significantly lower at the other end of the planet – Antarctic sea ice extent is the sixth-lowest on record for January.

It comes after Copernicus data also showed 2023 was the hottest year on record and, based on retrospective modelling, potentially the last 100,000 years.

8th-hottest year for Australia

While the global average temperature is hitting record levels, things were more muted in Australia.

The Bureau of Meteorology noted 2023 was 0.98°C warmer than the 30-year average from 1961-1990. Although that marked a dip compared to recent hot years, it remained the hottest year since 2020, while the 11-year moving average of Australia’s temperatures remains at an all-time high.

The Bureau also confirmed Australia’s climate has itself warmed an average of 1.5°C since the beginning of records in 1910. Considering the pre-industrial levels referred to by the Paris Agreement are generally considered to be those before the 1900s, it’s a troubling milestone for Australia.

Among other records, 2023 had Australia’s warmest recorded winter,1.53 °C above the 1961-1990 average and the driest 3 months (August-October) recorded since 1990.

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