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Earth's global temperature exceeded 2°C for the first time

On November 17, 2023, Earth’s global temperature exceeded 2 degrees Celsius (2°C) above pre-industrial levels for the first time. 

This critical environmental milestone was reported in ERA5, the fifth reanalysis of the global climate by ECMWF, implemented as part of the Copernicus Climate Change Service.

Shocking temperature records

The ERA5 data, which covers the period from 1940 to the present, indicated that on November 17, the global surface air temperature was 2.07°C higher than the pre-industrial average, a benchmark period from 1850-1900 before the widespread use of fossil fuels. 

Additionally, provisional data for November 18 showed a temperature anomaly of 2.06°C above the pre-industrial level.

This alarming development, released just before the commencement of the 28th Conference of the Parties (COP28) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Dubai, brings the issue of climate change into sharp focus.

The time for action is now

“The ERA5 record now contains two days where global temperatures exceed the pre-industrial level by more than 2°C,” said Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S) Director Carlo Buontempo.

“That this should happen in the same month that world leaders will gather to take stock of progress towards meeting Paris Agreement commitments at COP28 sends a very clear message – the time for definitive action to tackle climate change is now.”

“While exceeding the 2°C threshold for a number of days does not mean that we have breached the Paris Agreement targets, the more often that we exceed this threshold, the more serious the cumulative effects of these breaches will become.”

Hottest November ever

The ERA5 data also revealed that the global surface air temperature on November 17 was 1.17°C above the average for the 1991-2020 reference period, suggesting that November 2023 is on track to be the warmest November recorded.

The ERA5 data are part of the ERA5T dataset, which provides preliminary climate data with a delay of up to five days. These data will undergo verification and will be included in the final ERA5 dataset after the standard 2-3 month quality control period.

The report underscores the urgent need for comprehensive and decisive action to address climate change, a critical topic for discussion at the upcoming COP28.

Why is the 2°C limit so important? 

The 2 degrees Celsius temperature limit is a crucial benchmark in climate change discussions for several reasons:

Scientific basis 

This limit is based on extensive scientific research suggesting that keeping global warming below 2 degrees Celsius significantly reduces the risks and impacts of climate change.

Environmental impact

Beyond the 2°C threshold, the likelihood of severe, pervasive, and irreversible impacts on ecosystems and biodiversity increases dramatically.

Sea level rise

A temperature rise above 2 degrees could lead to more significant sea level rise, affecting low-lying areas and island nations.

Extreme weather events 

Higher temperatures are associated with more extreme weather events like heatwaves, droughts, floods, and hurricanes, which have devastating effects on human life, agriculture, and infrastructure.

Food and water security

Exceeding the 2 degrees limit could jeopardize food and water security for millions of people, as it affects crop yields and water availability.

Social and economic impacts

These environmental changes could lead to significant social and economic disruptions, including increased poverty, migration, and conflict.

Tipping points

There is a risk of crossing critical thresholds or “tipping points” in the Earth’s system, like the melting of polar ice caps and permafrost, which could lead to a cascade of further changes and make it more difficult to control future warming.

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