First Year-Long Breach of 1.5 Degrees Celsius Could be More Enduring Without Accelerated Action by World Leaders

Statement by Dr. Kristina Dahl, Union of Concerned Scientists

Published Feb 8, 2024

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WASHINGTON—European science agency Copernicus announced today that, for the first time ever, global average heating exceeded 1.5 degrees Celsius, on average, for a 12-month period. This new finding comes on the heels of leading scientific bodies in the United States and around the world declaring 2023 as the hottest year on record. It also raises serious concerns about the pace with which world leaders are pursuing the aims of the Paris Agreement, which was adopted by countries in 2015 with the goal of limiting long-term globally averaged temperatures from exceeding 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming above pre-industrial levels to avoid the most harmful climate change impacts.

Below is a statement by Dr. Kristina Dahl, a principal climate scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS). Dr. Dahl was also named in the 2023 TIME100 Next list, which highlights the emerging leaders shaping the future of science, activism, politics, business and more.

“In an ominous signal of the gravity of the climate crisis, the latest scientific data show Earth’s temperature, averaged globally over the last 12 months, was more than 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial average. It also confirms what communities and ecosystems on the frontlines of climate change experienced in this record-breaking hot year: the toll of a warming world, this year made worse by El Niño, is already too high. This alarming statistic is the latest in a series of powerful warnings of how profoundly humanity’s widespread fossil fuel use has altered the planet we share.

“This data doesn’t mean the primary goal of the Paris climate agreement has been breached, as nations committed to limiting global average temperatures over the long-term—typically considered 20 to 30 years—rather than tying their efforts to a day, month, or year-long anomaly. That said, world leaders should take serious heed of Copernicus’ latest finding by quickening their current snail’s pace to slash heat-trapping emissions and helping to safeguard communities and ecosystems from unavoidable climate impacts. The latest IPCC report found that the planet will likely breach the 1.5-degree-Celsius mark within the next 11 years unless global heat-trapping emissions peak by 2025.

“Fossil fuel companies, meanwhile, continue to operate and plan in ways that would move the planet further along this dangerous trajectory, with more human suffering and ecological destruction in store. Wealthier nations and those who have historically contributed the most to the climate crisis—including the United States—must stop obstructing and instead lead the way in making deep cuts to global warming emissions and providing funding to countries that have contributed the least while bearing the brunt of the crisis.”

If you have any questions or would like to arrange an interview with Dr. Dahl or another UCS expert, please contact UCS Climate and Energy Media Manager Ashley Siefert Nunes. You can also read Dr. Dahl’s blogpost titled “Can We Still Limit Global Warming to 1.5 Degrees C? Here’s What the Latest Science Says” here.