Burning of Fossil fuels from electric towers
Representational image Photo by Pixabay

Earth continues to warm at record levels, with 2023 on the verge of breaking a key threshold humankind has been seeking to avoid for almost a decade now.

The European climate agency Copernicus announces on Tuesday that last year was 1.48 degrees Celsius warmer than pre-industrial levels, practically reaching the 1.5 °C limit set in the 2015 Paris accords, which aim at avoiding the most severe effects of global warming.

Moreover, the agency said the trend is still pointing upwards in January, to the point that it is on track for the 12-month period (that is, February 2023 to January 2024) to break the aforementioned threshold. However, it clarified that Earth should average this temperature over two or three decades to technically break the limit.

The 1.5 degree goal "has to be (kept) alive because lives are at risk and choices have to be made," said Copernicus Deputy Director Samantha Burgess. "And these choices don't impact you and I but they impact our children and our grandchildren."

"It was record-breaking for seven months. We had the warmest June, July, August, September, October, November, December," she added. "It wasn't just a season or a month that was exceptional. It was exceptional for over half the year."

According to Axios, 2023 was the hottest year in at least 125,000 years, with some daily global temperatures over 2 degrees Celsius compared to pre-industrial levels. "El Niño events serve as added warming influences on top of human-caused climate change. But not even El Niño could fully explain the unusual warmth of 2023," said the outlet.

Humanity can still bring back the average below the threshold, mainly through reducing carbon emissions and implementing technologies such as carbon capture.

Climate change march
Activists march for better environmental protections in Chicago. Abel Rodriguez

The countries taking part in the UN's COP 28 approved in December a document that for the first time called for the transition away from all fossil fuels. The language was hailed as a major milestone, but many climate scientists said that a lot more is needed to actually have a shot at stemming the impact of climate change.

Michael Mann, a climatologist and geophysicist at the University of Pennsylvania, criticized the vagueness of the fossil fuel statement, which has no firm, accountable boundaries for how much countries should do by when.

"The agreement to 'transition away from fossil fuels' was weak tea at best," he told AFP. "It's like promising your doctor that you will 'transition away from donuts' after being diagnosed with diabetes. The lack of an agreement to phase out fossil fuels was devastating."

Humanity has between five and eight years of emissions at the current level before blowing through the "carbon budget" required to hold long term warming to the 1.5 degrees Celsius needed to avert the worst impacts of long term planetary heating, said Kevin Anderson, a professor of energy and climate change at the University of Manchester.

Even if emissions begin to go down in 2024, which is not a requirement of the text, we would need to have zero fossil fuel use globally by 2040, rather than the "fraudulent language of net zero by 2050" envisaged in the deal, said Anderson.

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