Global Warming Threshold Breached for a Whole Year: What Does This Mean for Us?

For the first time in history, the 1.5° Celsius temperature threshold has been breached for an entire year.

Climate Change
5 min read

Globally, the 1.5 degrees Celsius temperature threshold has been breached for an entire year, in the period between February 2023 and January 2024, the European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service has stated. 

This report by the EU’s climate service comes a few months after the United Nations Environment Programme in November 2023 released its annual global Emissions Gap Report, which said,

“86 days have been recorded with temperatures exceeding 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels this year.”

This raises grave concerns about where we are heading ecologically.

To help contextualise the report and put things in perspective, The Quint spoke with climate experts – Abinash Mohanty, Sector Head, Climate Change & Sustainability at IPE Global, and Expert Reviewer of IPCC- AR(6), and Anumita Roychowdhury, Executive Director, Research and Advocacy, Centre for Science and Environment.


Is the Temperature Breach an Anomaly or the New Normal?

Global temperatures are rising. In the last one year, the average increase in temperature has been 1.5 degrees Celsius. When the temperature increases, the resultant climate change and extreme weather events become more intense, frequent, and long-lasting.

Abinash Mohanty tells The Quint, “When we say that any body temperature over 98.4 degrees Fahrenheit means that you have a fever, it’s the same way we look at the global temperature with a base limit as well.”

He adds that we need to look at this rise in temperature from a two-fold lens to reach any conclusive thoughts. 

  • Is the rise in temperature over a certain period largely due to carbon emissions triggered by unsustainable anthropocentric activities?

  • Or is it a long-term breach, compared to pre-industrial levels, that is becoming the ‘new normal’?

For the former, Mohanty says, “Some aggressive steps can be taken to contain the situation.” 

But if the warming is the ‘new normal’, “The breach is irreversible in such cases because the damage is already done. So the only way to go ahead is to ‘adapt’ to the irreversible and ‘mitigate any further rise scenarios’,” says Mohanty.

In any case, there is cause for worry, says Anumita Roychowdhury. 2023 was one of the warmest years in history. January 2024 has also been noted to be one of the warmest Januarys in history, she adds.

The Larger Picture: Annual Reports vs Decadal Reports

How much of an impact will this have on us when we look at the larger picture?

Mohanty has an answer to this. But he poses a question first, “Will we only wake up when it's a global warming year?”

He goes on to explain that any climate or meteorological analysis needs to have at least a three-decade time span to conclude imperatively that some change is happening. 

Roychowdhury nods in agreement. However, she tells The Quint that while the 1.5 degrees Celsius is the annual temperature breach, it does in turn contribute to the decadal change. 

She adds,

“The Paris Agreement in 2015 said that the decadal report should not change and breach 1.5 degrees because that would be catastrophic. If this continues, we’re likely to violate that. We’re beginning to see much warmer years now. Climate studies and IPCC reports show that with the amount of greenhouse gas emissions, we’ve committed ourselves to a much higher level of warming.”

Are We Nearing Global Warming of 1.5 Degrees Celsius?

However, a major question still remains unanswered. Are we nearing global warming of 1.5 degrees Celsius? That is something we’ll have to wait a few years to find out with evidence. 

For the first time in history, the 1.5° Celsius temperature threshold has been breached for an entire year.

Screengrab from the European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service.

There’s no denying that temperatures are increasing and warmer temperatures are being noted. In the near future, more thresholds might be breached.

“When we are looking at this temperature breach, from some of my hypergranular risk assessments, India has had a 0.6-0.7 degree Celsius long-term increase in temperature – as a result of which, three-quarters of the subcontinent are extreme weather hotspots."
Abinash Mohanty

Moreover, he adds, "The landscape of extreme events is also changing. Indian districts are now noticing a swapping trend – drought-prone areas are becoming flood-prone, and vice versa. In some districts, both are happening simultaneously. These are the changes one should be cognisant of."

Roychowdhury agrees with Mohanty. She explains that this is happening because there is an imbalance in the global weather systems due to temperature increase – and this is resulting in increased frequency, intensity, and duration of extreme weather events.

Mohanty adds that due to warmer temperatures, extreme weather events also get compounded, not only in their intensity, but as a cascading effect too. 

He tells The Quint,

“If a place is experiencing a cyclone, it could be accompanied by erratic rainfall, and/or storm surges, and/or heavy lightning. The impact will increase to a larger extent and is more harsher and grimmer.”

There's more. This also means that the livelihood of many gets impacted more and more each day as agriculture, food production, and food security become more at risk. 


What Next? Adapt & Mitigate

A lot of climate action and thought leadership is already happening to mitigate the impacts of climate change. 

But one change that we need, says Mohanty, is to make attributional science more people-centric. He goes on to add,

“When there’s rainfall, will I be inundated knee deep or will only an inch of my car be under water? Is my house budget going to increase when there’s a heatwave? These are some of the questions that need to be answered through attributional science practitioners. This will cast the stone for making it people-centric in the true sense.”

Roychowdhury agrees. She adds that at a policy level, there also need to be massive cuts in greenhouse gas emissions from all sectors – energy, manufacturing, transport, agriculture, etc.

“According to studies and reports, given the global atmosphere and current trends, we can only emit greenhouse gases that can be absorbed by the global carbon sink for about 7-9 years before we saturate the carbon sinks. The focus should be on effective mitigation globally.”
Anumita Roychowdhury

There’s another thing she stresses – that the massive cuts happen without undermining the needs of the developing countries. “There are countries that are yet to meet all their development goals and they need energy to do that. So the tricky balance is meeting development goals sustainably.”

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