Climate Change

World breached 1.5°C limit 279 times since 1940, shows DTE analysis of ECMWF data

While we are still some way from overstepping the 1.5°C mark, the June breach should ring alarm bells for a developing country like India

By Pulaha Roy
Published: Monday 19 June 2023
Image: iStock.

The daily global mean temperature anomaly was 1.5°C above the 1850-1900 average for at least five days in early June, according to the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF).

Analysis of ECMWF’s data suggests that the daily mean temperature was over the 1.5°C threshold — the target set by the UN-mandated Paris climate agreement — on 20 other occasions in 2023.

Since 1940 — when ECMWF started recording global temperatures — the world has breached the 1.5°C limit on 279 occasions or days. The worrying part of the trend is all the occasions were in the last 15 years, the first being on March 13, 2010, when rounded off to one decimal place.

The chart highlights all the years (the coloured plots) in which the 1.5°C was breached on at least one occasion/day. Credit: Pulaha Roy. Figures have been rounded up to one decimal place.

While the daily global temperature was indeed 1.5° over the 1850-1900 limit, “it remains to be seen how often, for how long and by how much the limit is exceeded in the coming twelve months,” according to ECMWF.

It is common for global surface temperatures to fluctuate, said Akshay Deoras, a climate scientist at the University of Reading, UK.

“These are natural variations, often driven by sources of internal variability such as strong volcanoes and the El Nino Southern Oscillation,” Deoras said.

Deoras, like ECMWF, also pointed out that temperatures need to be assessed on a longer scale of 20-30 years to understand how close we are to the threshold set by the Paris climate agreement.

On being asked about the factors responsible for this breach, he said:

The development of El Nino conditions in the Pacific Ocean could be one of the factors behind the breach in June, and it will definitely continue to pump more heat into the atmosphere over the next several months.

“The more frequently we witness the monthly global averaged surface temperature exceeding the 1.5°C mark or getting close to it, the more concerning it will be for the planet, and will take us to a point of no return,” Deoras cautioned.

Also read: Four possible consequences of El Niño returning in 2023

While we are still some way from overstepping the 1.5°C mark, the June breach should ring alarm bells for a tropical as well as developing country like India.

Tangible results of global warming have proven it could cause havoc akin to what the wheat farmers in the country experienced last year when intense heat waves resulted in crop damage in the northern belt of the country.

Earlier, Down To Earth had reported on the warming scenario when the mean global temperatures around the year would be over the 1.5°C mark. The results are surprising — quantification of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s data showed that when the world is warming at 1.5°C, a tropical country like India would be clocking 1.2°C above the 1850-1900 average. 

The Himalayan states would be most vulnerable at that stage, with Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Sikkim warming over the 1.5°C mark. 

Most likely, a rise in temperature will cause precipitation to shift and glaciers to melt quickly. According to DTE analysis, India’s northern and western regions would probably be more sensitive to an increase in temperature than its eastern region.

The annual average temperature is expected to rise in the arid states of Gujarat and Rajasthan by 1.33°C and 1.43°C, respectively. There may be a significant increase in temperature in Chandigarh (1.26°C), Punjab (1.27°C) and Kerala (1.31°C).

Please note: For the analysis, figures have been rounded off to one decimal place.

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