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Exceeding 1.5c
Tunley Environmental13 Sep 20235 min read

Exceeding 1.5C: The Fight Against Climate Change

The year 2023 is poised to be a watershed moment in Earth's climate history. As temperatures continue to rise, we find ourselves on the brink of surpassing the critical threshold of 1.5 °C above pre‑industrial levels. This milestone, set by the Paris Agreement, represents a significant turning point in our battle against climate change. In this article, we will delve into the recent data and scientific assessments that indicate the likelihood of exceeding this threshold, the implications of such an escalation, and the urgent actions required to address this global crisis.

Record Temperatures and Rising Concerns

Over the past few years, we have witnessed a steady increase in global temperatures, with 2023 on track to become the hottest year on record. In July and August of 2023, global temperatures soared to unprecedented levels, surpassing the 1.5 °C mark for the first time. This trend continued into September, further solidifying the likelihood of breaking previous temperature records.

According to data released by Copernicus, a branch of the European Union Space Programme, August 2023 was a staggering 1.59 °C warmer than the average temperature between 1850 and 1900. This followed a significant increase of 1.6 °C in July. These record-breaking temperatures have propelled the year-to-date global temperature to 1.35 °C above pre-industrial levels, coming tantalisingly close to the current record-holder of 2016.

The Role of El Niño and Climate Variability

While the rise in global temperatures can be attributed to various factors, the interplay between El Niño and La Niña events has played a crucial role in the recent surge of heat. The removal of the cooling influence of La Niña, which had suppressed global temperatures in previous years, has contributed the rapid escalation of temperatures in 2023.

El Niño, a natural climate phenomenon characterised by warmer ocean surface temperatures in the equatorial Pacific, is also anticipated to intensify in the coming months. Historically, El Niño years have been associated with higher global temperatures. Out of the past 15 El Niño episodes, 13 have seen a rise in temperatures in the second year, surpassing the first year's records. This trend suggests that 2024 may witness even hotter temperatures, potentially breaching the 1.5 °C threshold set by the Paris Agreement.

Impacts on Earth's Climate Systems

The consequences of surpassing the 1.5 °C threshold extend beyond air temperatures alone. Earth's climate systems, including the atmosphere, hydrosphere, and cryosphere, have experienced major disruptions. The magnitude and frequency of these disruptions have raised concerns among scientists and policymakers alike.

The months of June, July, and August in 2023 witnessed record-high air temperatures, setting new benchmarks for global heat. Additionally, daily air temperature records have been shattered, surpassing 17 °C for the first time in history. These extreme temperatures have not only impacted terrestrial environments but have also had far-reaching effects on oceanic ecosystems.

Antarctic sea ice has reached record lows, with successive months in 2023 experiencing unprecedented reductions. Furthermore, ocean temperatures have climbed to new heights, with April, May, June, July, and August 2023 all registering record-high monthly averages. The impact of these rising temperatures on marine life and ecosystems cannot be understated.

The Urgency for Climate Action

The escalating temperatures and their ramifications underscore the urgent need for comprehensive and immediate climate action. The World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) has emphasised the probability of 2023-2027 witnessing temperatures exceeding 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels for at least one year. This alarming prediction necessitates an accelerated global response to mitigate the impacts of climate change.

The Paris Agreement, a landmark accord signed by nations worldwide, sets the ambitious goal of limiting the global temperature increase to well below 2 °C and pursuing efforts to limit it to 1.5 °C. However, the current trajectory indicates that surpassing the 1.5 °C threshold is not only likely but imminent. The implications of this escalation are profound, affecting various aspects of human life, including food security, water resources, and public health.

The Path Towards a Sustainable Future

Addressing the challenge of climate change requires concerted efforts from governments, businesses, and individuals alike. Transitioning to renewable energy sources, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and adopting sustainable practices are crucial steps towards mitigating the impacts of global warming.

Educating and empowering communities to act now is equally important. By raising awareness about the implications of exceeding the 1.5 °C threshold, we can inspire individuals to make sustainable choices in their daily lives. Small changes, such as conserving energy, reducing waste, and supporting eco-friendly initiatives, can collectively make a real and significant difference in our fight against climate change.

Building Resilience and Adaptation

As temperatures continue to rise, it is vital to prioritise resilience and adaptation strategies. Governments and communities must invest in infrastructure that can withstand the impacts of extreme weather events, such as heatwaves, droughts, and floods. By enhancing our ability to adapt to changing climatic conditions, we can minimise the social, economic, and environmental consequences of climate change.

Collaboration and international cooperation are fundamental to address the global nature of climate change. Sharing knowledge, resources, and best practices can facilitate the development and implementation of effective climate policies and strategies. By working together, we can build a more sustainable future for generations to come.

The Bottom Line

The prospect of exceeding the 1.5 °C threshold serves as a stark reminder of the urgent need to tackle climate change. The record-breaking temperatures observed in 2023 and the likelihood of surpassing previous temperature records demand immediate action. By embracing renewable energy, reducing emissions, and fostering a global commitment to sustainability, we can mitigate the impacts of global warming and pave the way for a more resilient and prosperous future. Let us seize this critical moment to safeguard our planet for future generations.


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