Earth tips 2 degrees warmer in worrying milestone

November 17th was the first day ever to breach the threshold, expected to become more common

The world was 2 degrees warmer than the average pre-industrial temperatures for the first time ever on Friday, new data has indicated, temporarily exceeding the threshold that the international community has agreed must not be permanently crossed to avoid catastrophic levels of climate change.

The data released by the European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service does not mean the world is beyond hope of keeping to the limits agreed by the landmark Paris Agreement, as the breach of two degrees occurred for just one day on November 17th.

However, scientists describe it as a concerning indication of global warming.

“Hopefully it will prove transitory, but it’s a worrying sign,” climatologist Zeke Hausfather said of the Copernicus figures.


It comes as representatives of more than 200 countries prepare to meet for the 28th United Nations Climate Change conference or Cop28 in Dubai, where they are due to discuss how quickly fossil fuels should be phased out and whether wealthy countries need to subsidise the transition of the developing world.

In a statement, Copernicus Climate Change Service said that the measurement “doesn’t indicate a breach of the Paris Agreement but underscores our proximity to the internationally agreed-upon limits”.

“Global temperature records are being broken with alarming regularity,” said Carlo Buontempo, director of the Copernicus Climate Change Service.

“The breaches of the 1.5 and 2 degree thresholds were to be expected – through generalised warming and climate variability – they are still shockingly impactful. As Cop28 is just 10 days away, it’s crucial to understand what these figures signify for our collective future.”

The world is currently approaching the threshold of reaching 1.5 degrees warmer on average compared with pre-industrial times. Countries vowed to make efforts to limit climate change to this level in the binding 2015 United Nations climate treaty.

This month began with new heat records for November being set around the world, including in Bangladesh, Cyprus, Malta, Mongolia, North Korea, the Philippines, Tunisia and South Korea. Parts of China and Japan also reported record temperatures.

Last week, Brazil experienced a heatwave that was described by national weather service MetSul as “extraordinary”, with “absurdly high” temperatures that were 10 or 15 degrees higher than the average in some places.

“Tens of millions of people will face heat like they have never experienced in their lives. It will be a week that will change national climate statistics,” MetSul wrote.

It follows a summer of heatwaves around the world including in Europe, which is heating twice as fast as the global average. July 2023 was the hottest month on Earth ever recorded. This year is “almost certain to be the warmest year on record”, the UN said in a statement earlier this month.

Most of Europe has seen unusually heavy rain this autumn. Caused by greenhouse gases that are emitted by human activity, global warming causes more extremes of weather including heavy rain, flooding, drought, heatwaves and wildfires.

The onset this year of the global climate pattern El Niño, which brings warmer weather, is exacerbating underlying climate change according to scientists.

Naomi O’Leary

Naomi O’Leary

Naomi O’Leary is Europe Correspondent of The Irish Times