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Global temperatures surge: Urgent warning signals from climate agencies

Global temperatures surge: Urgent warning signals from climate agencies

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Last month marked a disquieting milestone in climate records as it emerged as the warmest May on record. The Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S) revealed that each of the last twelve months has sequentially set new benchmarks for warmth. The global average temperature for May surpassed the estimated average for the 1850-1900 pre-industrial era by 1.5 degrees Celsius. Over the preceding twelve months (June 2023 – May 2024), the average temperature stood at 1.63 degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial benchmark.

In a parallel report published on June 6, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) cautioned that there is an 80% likelihood of at least one calendar year between 2024 and 2028 exceeding the critical 1.5-degree Celsius threshold above pre-industrial levels. Just a year earlier, the probability was estimated at 66%.

However, the breach of this threshold does not necessarily indicate an immediate climate cataclysm. The 1.5-degree Celsius limit is contextualized over an extended period, reflecting a sustained rise in global temperatures. This threshold was underscored in the 2015 Paris Agreement, where nations committed to curtailing global warming well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and aimed to cap it at 1.5 degrees Celsius.

The choice of 1.5 degrees Celsius as a critical threshold was informed by scientific assessments that breaching it could expose vulnerable regions and ecosystems to heightened risks over prolonged periods. Beyond this point, the adverse impacts of climate change, including sea-level rise, extreme weather events, and ecosystem disruptions, are expected to intensify.

The recent spate of climate-related incidents underscores these concerns. The searing heatwave that scorched North and Central India in late May, for instance, exceeded past heatwaves by nearly 1.5 degrees Celsius, leading to numerous fatalities. Similarly, the fourth global mass coral bleaching event triggered by exceptionally high ocean temperatures threatens oceanic ecosystems and the livelihoods of millions.

To avert a climate catastrophe, immediate and drastic measures are imperative. The recent surge in global temperatures underscores the urgent need to curtail greenhouse gas emissions by transitioning away from fossil fuels. Despite the advent of El Niño, which contributed to the recent temperature spikes, the transition to cooler La Niña conditions offers a brief reprieve.

However, the trajectory of global temperatures indicates an imminent breach of the 1.5-degree Celsius threshold in the coming years. Only through concerted efforts to reduce emissions and transition to sustainable energy sources can the world hope to mitigate the worst impacts of climate change. As UN Secretary-General António Guterres aptly remarked, "We are playing Russian roulette with our planet… We need an exit ramp off the highway to climate hell, and the truth is we have control of the wheel."

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