World’s average annual temperature breaks 1.5°C threshold for the first time

We can still avoid climate catastrophe, but we need action urgently.

5 min read
A birds egg on the ground, it is burnt after a wild fire.
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For the first time, the world’s average temperature has increased by 1.5°C for an entire year. This is a symbolic moment. Pursuing efforts to limit global temperatures to 1.5°C in the long term is what world leaders promised to try and do in 2015 to prevent the most damaging consequences of climate change.  

The findings released this week by the EU’s climate service are deeply worrying, but they don’t break the 1.5°C threshold under the 2015 Paris Agreement because, as yet this isn’t a long-term trend. But it’s a stark reminder we need to see urgent action and investment to drastically reduce our carbon emissions and prepare for the worsening impacts of a changing climate.

What does the latest data show?

The report from the EU’s Copernicus Climate Change Service shows that from February 2023 to January 2024 average air temperatures warmed globally by 1.52°C. This is compared to world temperatures before industrialisation.  

The same organisation also recently announced that January 2024 was the warmest January on record globally, with an average air temperature of 13.14°C. Here in the UK, we’ve seen the highest ever January temperature, according to the Met Office, with 19.6°C seen at Kinlochewe in the Scottish Highlands.  

The current sea surface average temperatures globally is also at a record high, with an average daily temperature of 21.05°C recorded on 3 February 2024. The data backs up what we’re seeing with our own eyes. In the last 12 months there’s been widespread flooding, heatwaves and wildfires across the UK – events which are only set to get worse and more frequent as temperatures continue to rise.

Burnt trees fill an ashy dirt floor.

Why is the 1.5C threshold so important? 

Keeping air temperatures below 1.5°C was put down as a marker in the sand by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) – the global climate experts group. They say this is the level that countries around the world should keep below to try and reduce the impact of climate change. The experts highlighted that if we can do this, the threats to humans and wildlife caused by increasing wildfires, extreme heatwaves, flooding and rising seas would be much less than if temperatures were to rise 2°C.  

Changes to our climate pose a huge threat to us, but they’re also the single biggest threat to the world’s wildlife. The UN says a million species around the world could be on the path towards extinction in part because of the catastrophic impact of our warming planet. Species in the UK such as Bluetits, Puffins and Ptarmigan are already feeling the effects. 

We can’t solve the biodiversity crisis without tackling climate change.

A lone Ptarmigan perched on a rock surrounded by dried grassland.

Can we still stop the 1.5°C rise in the long-term? 

The trend in the planet’s temperatures rising is mainly being caused by the burning of fossil fuels which release gases into the air that warm our planet. The only way we’re going to stop this 1.5°C annual rise becoming a long-term trend is to rapidly reduce and then stop our reliance on fossil fuels. Now, more than ever, we need Governments to urgently back green policies and make sure the investment is available for them to succeed. This includes investing in protecting habitats such as peatlands and woodlands. These lock up carbon in the ground, help us cope with extreme weather events such as heatwaves and flooding and provide a home for many species of wildlife. This needs to happen alongside the roll out of nature positive renewable energy developments.  

What we’ve seen recently is the opposite – different parties going back on the green pledges they’ve made. This is both hugely disappointing and potentially disastrous for our ambitions to tackle both the nature and climate emergencies.

Smoke clouds rising up from the wildfire across RSPB Corrimony.

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It’s clear that our politicians are not leading the change that is so desperately needed. That's why it’s so important that we use our voices to demand action. When we all speak as one, we have the power to drive real change. Find out more about campaigning with the RSPB below and how you can join us in demanding action on climate change to benefit us and nature.   

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A protester at the march wearing a blue RSPB top waving a blue flag, Sept 23.
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