For the first time on record, average global temperatures were more than 1.5 degrees Celsius warmer than pre-industrial levels for 12 consecutive months.
From February 2023 to January 2024, average temperatures were 1.52 degrees Celsius — converted, the equivalent of 2.73 degrees Fahrenheit — warmer than between 1850 and 1900. That's when humans started warming the planet by burning fossil fuels and pumping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
This came as the planet experienced its hottest January on record, according to the European Union's Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S).
"It is a significant milestone," said Matt Patterson, a postdoctoral researcher in climate physics at the University of Oxford.
The climate-warming El Nino phenomenon was partly behind the spike, and temperatures are expected to dip slightly below 1.5 C once it ends in the next few months. Still, greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels are the main culprit for the bulk of the warming.
Did the world break the Paris Agreement?
Not quite, but it's getting close.
In 2015, at the Paris UN climate conference, almost every country present agreed to limit the average global temperature increase to well below 2 C, and to aim for a maximum 1.5 C temperature rise, in what became known as the Paris Agreement.
The 1.5 C limit was chosen as a defense line in avoiding the most extreme and irreversible effects of climate change. Exceeding it threatens serious harm to planetary systems, human populations, and the environment as storms, heat waves and droughts become more extreme.
Climate change has already worsened extreme weather events. Weather attribution scientists found that in 2023, planetary heating made Canada's most extreme wildfire season much more likely, and worsened the unprecedented drought in the Horn of Africa as well as devastating flooding in Libya. Deadly heat waves in Europe, North America and China would have been practically impossible without human-made climate change.
This latest C3S report shows that for 12 months straight, average temperatures have exceeded that 1.5-degree limit. But the Paris Agreement refers to average temperatures over a longer period.
Some years can exceed 1.5 C, as long as other years fall under, and it averages out. The threshold will only be confimed as surpassed once it reaches that level, on average, over a 20-year period, according to the UN climate body, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
Still, it shows that humanity has a rapidly closing window to act.
"Having reached this level for such a sustained period, and rather abruptly ... this calls more than ever for mitigating actions in terms of phasing out fossil fuels," Francesca Guglielmo, a C3S senior scientist, told DW in a statement.
Can humans still act to limit temperature rise?
The IPCC estimates that at current rates, global warming is likely to reach 1.5 C between 2030 and 2052.
But if humanity quickly stops burning fossil fuels and halves emissions by 2030, the Paris goals could still be met, according to the UN.
This would require a transformation of energy systems, economies, agriculture and transport, and a halt to deforestation. It would also have to be combined with protecting natural carbon sinks such as forests and wetlands, and using carbon capture and storage technologies on a large scale.
"Unless global emissions are urgently brought down to zero, the world will soon fly past the safety limits set out in the Paris climate agreement," Joeri Rogelj, professor of climate science at the Imperial College London, said in a statement.
Still, the world has already made a lot of progress toward slowing climate change. Renewable energies and other green technologies are expanding rapidly and getting cheaper. And before the Paris Agreement, humanity was on track to cause a potentially catastrophic 3.5 C global warming by 2100. The world is now on a path for 2.5 C to 2.9 C warming by the end of the century as a result of government climate policies. But a lot more needs to be done to stay under the Paris limits.
Staying under 1.5 degrees does not mean humanity escapes all the effects of climate change, such as extreme weather and food supply issues, but it gives the planet a much better chance of avoiding the more extreme and irreversible climate effects that are very likely at higher levels of warming, say scientists.
Edited by: Jennifer Collins