Critical 1.5°C Threshold Crossed for Days in 2023, Earth is Getting too hot to Live

In December 2015 in Paris, political leaders from across the globe came together to sign a historic agreement, one that would set the stage for our planet’s future. They pledged to keep the long-term rise in global temperatures this century “well below” 2°C and to make every conceivable effort to limit it to below 1.5°C.

These identified limits are not random; they represent the difference between the present-day global temperatures and those of the pre-industrial era. The time between 1850 to 1900, before the widespread use of fossil fuels. In 2023, however, we’ve reached a concerning milestone for these numbers. A 1.5°C difference has been recorded for days between June and October this year. It is an unsettling development underscoring the urgency of the climate crisis.

According to a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences; the warming of the planet beyond 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels will spell increasingly devastating consequences for human health worldwide. The study essentially warns that if global temperatures are to rise by 2°C, millions would annually experience unbearable heat in regions like Pakistan and India’s Indus River Valley, sub-Saharan Africa, and eastern China.

Critical 1.5°C Threshold Crossed for Days in 2023

Image: AFP

Arguably, the consequences of breaching the Paris Agreement thresholds aren’t a matter of surpassing 1.5°C for days but about trailing beyond these limits for a span of decades on average. Currently, that long-term average warming figure hovers around 1.1°C to 1.2°C. But there’s a dangerous aspect to this crisis.

The more frequently we breach the 1.5°C mark, even for individual days, the closer we inch toward a permanent breach. The first time this happened – for a few days – was in December 2015, when world leaders were signing the Paris Agreement. Since then, we have crossed this line, albeit for brief periods, but 2023 has been an alarming year.

Among many concerning factors contributing to the Earth’s predicament is the warming of the oceans. This year, ocean temperatures have been unusually high, releasing additional heat into the atmosphere. Oceans are crucial for climate regulation; they absorb heat, produce oxygen, and influence weather patterns. Warmer oceans have less capacity to absorb carbon dioxide, leaving more of the planet-warming gas in the atmosphere.

Heating oceans lead to accelerated glacier melting, which leads to rising sea levels. Even though the precise reasons for the surge in ocean temperatures remain unknown, its implications are clear. There’s a disturbance in the lifestyle of marine species that are reportedly moving in search of colder waters, disrupting the natural food chain.

Pakistan’s North Faces Threat of Floods From Rapidly Melting Glaciers

Image: Abdul MAJEED / AFP

One lesser-known factor impacting global temperatures is the dwindling sea ice levels around Antarctica. Experts suggest that recent temperature spikes in the continent, triggered by natural inconsistency, have raised the global average temperatures. However, pinpointing the exact influence of long-term human-induced warming remains challenging.

While 2023 is on course to becoming the warmest year on record, it is not expected to breach the 1.5°C warming threshold as a global average over the full 12 months. But the clock is ticking! To halt this alarming trend, decades of research emphasize the need for humanity to curtail greenhouse gas emissions, particularly carbon dioxide from fossil fuel combustion.

If not, the worst heat stress will disproportionately affect less affluent regions with rapid population growth, despite the fact that these nations emit far fewer greenhouse gases than their affluent counterparts. However, the suffering will be widespread, it will eventually affect us all in this interconnected world.

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