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Climate Records Shattered: What You Need to Know

In 2023, atmospheric levels of heat-trapping gases hit unprecedented highs, according to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Month after month, global temperatures are breaking records, raising concerns among scientists and climate policymakers about the planet potentially exceeding the warming target set at the Paris 2015 climate talks. Here’s a breakdown of the latest climate developments.

Recent Climate Records Broken

The European Union’s climate monitoring agency, Copernicus, reported that May was the hottest on record, marking the 12th consecutive month of record-breaking temperatures. Additionally, the World Meteorological Organization has projected nearly a 50% chance that global temperatures from 2024 to 2028 will exceed the 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) warming limit established in the Paris Agreement. A study published in Earth System Science Data, involving 57 scientists, indicates that Earth will warm at a slightly faster rate in 2023 compared to 2022.

Scientists’ Reactions

These trends are not surprising to climate scientists. The increase in global temperatures aligns with predictions based on the accumulation of carbon dioxide from fossil fuel use. NOAA reported that in 2023, atmospheric levels of these greenhouse gases reached historic peaks, with carbon dioxide rising by the third-highest amount recorded in 65 years.

Impact on Humanity

The consequences of these shattered records include more extreme weather events and prolonged heatwaves. This spring, an Asian heatwave led to school closures in the Philippines, fatalities in Thailand, and record temperatures across Indonesia, Malaysia, the Maldives, and Myanmar. In India, prolonged heatwaves last month resulted in school closures and deaths. Exceeding the 1.5-degree warming limit won’t spell immediate catastrophe, but it will exacerbate existing problems. Previous UN studies suggest that significant ecosystem changes are more likely to occur between 1.5 and 2 degrees Celsius of warming, including the loss of coral reefs, Arctic sea ice, certain species, and more extreme weather events that harm people and infrastructure.

Steps Forward

To mitigate the worst effects of climate change, scientists emphasize the need to phase out fossil fuel use. The burning of oil, gas, and coal is the primary driver of human-induced global warming. “Until greenhouse gas concentrations level off, we will keep breaking temperature records, along with increasingly frequent and intense extreme weather events,” said Jennifer Francis of the Woodwell Climate Research Center in Massachusetts. While renewable energy is expanding rapidly, its growth must accelerate. Efficiencies in various sectors, such as heating, cooking, and construction, are being developed and implemented, but urgent adaptation is necessary.

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