World breaches critical 1.5C warming threshold 12 months in a row, Copernicus data finds

The world has baked under temperatures above a critical warming benchmark every month for a year, according to new data.

The changed climate has already unleashed devastating consequences around the world this year, with people dying from heatwaves in India, Saudi Arabia, Gaza and the United States, and tourists in Greece evacuated amid wildfires.

Every month since July 2023 - 12 months in a row - has seen an average surface air temperature of 1.5C (2.7F) hotter than the fossil fuel era, data from the European Union's Copernicus Climate Change Service confirmed today.

Limiting warming to no more than 1.5C above pre-industrial levels - before we started burning fossil fuels at scale - is seen as critical to fend off more serious impacts of climate change - and is a target enshrined in the landmark Paris Agreement.

But over the last 12 months, the global average temperature has been 1.64C above the pre-industrial average, and 0.76C above the 1991-2020 average, Copernicus found.

The findings do not mean the world has permanently breached that warming threshold, or that leaders have definitely already failed to meet their Paris Agreement promise - as the temperatures may lower once the warming El Nino weather phenomenon subsides.

But they ar highlight "continuing" changes to the planet's climate, Copernicus's director said.

Carlo Buontempo said: "This is more than a statistical oddity, and it highlights a large and continuing shift in our climate."

It is "inevitable" temperature records will be broken over and over "unless we stop adding greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and the oceans", he said.

Bella O'Dowd, WWF's head of climate policy, said the 1.5C temperature breach is "not a milestone towards an inevitable destination, but a wake-up call for the new government".

Acting now on climate and nature can "unlock benefits for people, the economy and the planet", she said.

It comes as 130 million people face a long-running heat wave in the United States, which has shattered records with dangerously high temperatures.

Dr Friederike Otto, a climate scientist at Imperial College London's Grantham Institute, said there was a "high chance" 2024 would outrank 2023 as the hottest year on record

"El Nino is a naturally occurring phenomenon that will always come and go. We can't stop El Nino, but we can stop burning oil, gas, and coal," she said.

Copernicus's monthly release of data also confirmed last month was the hottest June on record - the 13th consecutive month ranked as the planet's hottest since records began.

Because the figure is an average of temperatures all around the world, it smooths out extremes, meaning some places could still have felt cool.

In Europe in June for example, temperatures were above average in parts of Turkey but at or below average in the west of the continent.