Last week, according to preliminary data from the European Copernicus service, another climate record was set – for the first time in history, the global average daily temperature deviated by more than two degrees Celsius from the average temperature of the period before massive industrial development.
Specifically, this even happened two days in a row – on November 17 by 2.07 °C and on November 18 by 2.07 °C.
The temperatures of the two days cannot be very significant in relation to the Paris Agreement and its goal of keeping global warming well above 1.5 °C, since it takes into account warming averaged over many years. On the other hand, the measurements from November 17 and 18 are another strong signal that the entire planet may have warmed even more in 2023 than expected.
How much is two degrees Celsius?
The size of the deviation from the period before the industrial revolution is well shown in the graph attached above. The jump compared to previous years, not only in November, but essentially in the entire second half of the year so far, is visible at first glance.
But how much is two degrees Celsius? In everyday life, when we are used to watching temperature changes on a thermometer, such a value may seem negligible. But these are two completely different degrees. As it is a worldwide average of temperatures, these two degrees are “sprawled” with a number of much more dramatic fluctuations from different places around the planet, and it is a big event.
In other words – in order for the global average to move by two degrees, it must be much warmer in many places than it was in the reference period.
“I understand the report as a serious warning that the current measures are unfortunately insufficient. And this despite the relatively slow growth of emissions in the last few years – also due to the impact of covid and the economic slowdown associated with it,” climatologist Aleš Farda from the Institute of Global Change Research of the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic commented on last week’s data for Nauzal. “We are heading for a warming of between 2.5-3 °C. This is bad news, and here we have to expect especially worse problems with drought and heat waves, at the same time associated with episodes of extremely heavy rainfall leading to the occurrence of floods.”
The described phenomena could be observed in several European countries this year. “Perhaps in the Po Valley we saw a transition from a devastating drought to a flood. Notably, large-scale fires of dry vegetation and forests were also in the news, and we are also familiar with them, fortunately so far in a smaller version,” added the climatologist.
Flooding in northern Italy claimed 14 lives, tens of thousands of evacuations and damage worth billions of euros. The drought-depleted – and important for the Italian economy – agricultural sector is particularly affected. Thousands of farms ended up under water.
What does the new data say about meeting and not meeting the goals of the Paris Agreement?
Farda and his colleagues from around the world point out, on the other hand, that although it is the highest deviation in daily average temperature since the reference period of 1850 to 1900, the data from November 17 and 18 cannot be taken as a message that the Paris Agreement and its the main goal – not to allow warming significantly above 1.5 °C and certainly not above 2 °C – failed.
The Paris Agreement foresees average warming over a much longer time horizon than days.
Even if the average for the entire year 2023 were to rise above 1.5°C, which is quite likely to happen, it would still not contradict the main goal of the agreement. This is to prevent the climate from warming above the set levels on the scale of not one, but many years.
“When we talk about the need to avoid warming above 1.5°C in the context of climate change, we are talking about a long-term trend, not individual years. Due to year-to-year variability, they will reach this limit much earlier before we can talk about a long-term trend,” he wrote to the matter, American climatologist Michael Evan Mann on the X social network and added that, on a long-term average, the climate can probably rise above the feared limit only in the coming decades.
“The Paris Agreement aims to limit the increase in average air temperature to 2°C and ideally 1.5°C by the end of this century. I assume that this average is calculated for a certain period – in climatology, climate normals defined as thirty-year averages are commonly used. A decade is also permissible, but that is the smallest possible period of time where it makes sense to talk about the ‘long-term average’ of any climatic quantity,” Farda explained what is meant by the “long-term trend” mentioned by Mann.
Another in a series of warning signs
The measurements from November 17 and 18, therefore, rather than crossing some catastrophic and intolerable limit, mean another strong signal that climate change is continuing, that if people do not dramatically reduce the amount of greenhouse gas emissions, they will not meet the goal of the Paris Agreement and will risk the destabilization of entire planetary systems.
There were a number of similar signals this year. We have had more than one globally record warm month (more here), record warm oceans (more here). And if we were to list this year’s temperature records in specific places and on specific days (for example here), the article would resemble a telephone directory.
The EU Copernicus service, as well as, for example, the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) already declared at the beginning of this autumn that it is almost certain that the year 2023 will surpass 2016 in average temperature and become the warmest ever recorded in the history of measurements.
What can happen if it warms above 1.5°C?
We have summarized the reasons why the 1.5 °C limit was chosen as the goal of the Paris Agreement in the attached text.
At the same time, 2016 was 1.43 °C warmer than the annual global average with the pre-industrial era. The entire decade 2013 to 2022 was also the warmest so far, with an average warming of 1.13 °C to 1.17 °C.
This year is set to surpass 2016, and although the average for the decade will probably not change significantly, it will certainly be a very strong reminder of ongoing climate change.
This year’s records are so numerous and so high that it has even started a scientific debate about whether they could be partly caused by something other than climate change itself and the warm atmospheric and oceanic El Niño phenomenon. Hypotheses are emerging that, in addition to the warming caused by greenhouse gas emissions, for example, the huge amount of water vapor released into the atmosphere after the explosion of the Hunga Tonga volcano, or, paradoxically, the greening of shipping (we wrote in detail here) could contribute to the warming.
According to Farda, these theories are irrelevant and it can be assumed that the volcano or the desulfurization of shipping had some effect on this year’s temperatures. But how big it was, according to the climatologist, cannot be determined right away. “Unfortunately, the increase in temperatures and extremes this year exceeds the expectations we had in previous years. Briefly summarized – it all goes very fast. Whether it is a one-time fluctuation is nevertheless difficult to estimate, and we will not be sure until the next few years, if at all.”
The extreme temperatures and records this summer are not a surprise, but proof that the warnings were not in vain. Even so, some fluctuations were incredible, Samantha Burgess from the EU Copernicus monitoring system tells Nauzal.
Increasing global temperatures due to climate change are no longer mitigating La Niña. The cold oceanic and atmospheric phenomenon has ended and is being replaced by a neutral period after three years. It will be followed by a warm El Niño phenomenon that may bring new records.
It warms ten times faster than without people
Finally, let us remind you that even the mentioned average warming of less than 1.2 °C compared to pre-industrial times over the last decade means an exceptional speed by the standards of our planet.
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) reports that, on average, during the end of the ice ages in the last million years, temperatures warmed by four to five degrees Celsius and lasted an average of five thousand years. The warming in the last 100 years is thus ten times faster in comparison.
Rate of warming on a scale of the last 22 thousand years:
Of course, the rate of warming is not the only, or even the biggest, evidence that climate change is caused by humans. An overview of the irrefutable evidence can be found here.
An uncertain future
Simultaneously with the publication of the Copernicus program data, a UN report was also published, which warns that the planet is on the way to warming by three degrees Celsius by the end of the century due to insufficient reductions in the production of greenhouse gas emissions.
According to a recently published report by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), the global concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere reached record levels again last year. For example, this year’s analysis by think tank Ember says that greenhouse gas emissions from the energy industry are likely to peak this year and then begin to decline thanks to the rapid development of renewables.