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Many broken returns as January hottest on record

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The EU’s Climate Change Service has released figures which show that January 2024 was the eighth consecutive month to break temperature records, in a world rapidly moving towards climate tipping points.

Yet another month has surpassed all previous temperature records – with January 2024 being declared the hottest January globally since records began.

The EU’s Climate Change Service announced today (8 February) that the average surface air temperature for January was 13.14 degrees Celsius, 0.7 degrees hotter than the average for 1991-2020 and 0.12 degrees hotter than the previous record set in January 2020.

Compared to pre-industrial levels (1850-1900), the month was 1.66 degrees hotter than the January average, surpassing the 1.5 degrees temperature limit set out in the Paris Agreement of 2015.

In Europe, temperatures varied from below the 1991-2020 average in Nordic countries to above average in the south of the continent.

A map of surface air temperature anomalies for January 2024.

Surface air temperature anomaly for January 2024. Image: Copernicus/C3S/ECMWF

Large parts of Europe were also wetter than average, with storms in the north and south-western areas of the continent. However, there were drier-than-average conditions in Ireland, as well as in south-eastern and northern Spain, southern UK, most of Scandinavia and some eastern parts of Europe.

Sea temperatures

Although the natural cycle of warming, El Niño, began to weaken in the equatorial Pacific, marine air temperatures remained at unusually high levels. The average global sea surface temperature reached 20.97 degrees Celsius, a record for January that is 0.26 degrees hotter than the previous record set in 2016.

In slightly better news, the extent of Arctic sea ice was close to average and the highest since 2009. The extent of Antarctic sea was 18pc below average but well above the lowest amount recorded, which was last year at 31pc below average.

“2024 starts with another record-breaking month,” said Samantha Burgess, deputy director of the Copernicus Climate Change Service. “Not only is it the warmest January on record but we have also just experienced a 12-month period of more than 1.5 degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial reference period.

“Rapid reductions in greenhouse gas emissions are the only way to stop global temperatures increasing.”

EU action is insufficient

Temperature records were broken every month from June to December last year. The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) analysed six international datasets and found that annual average global temperatures approached 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

The Paris Agreement recognised 1.5 degrees Celsius as the limit of global warming, above which there is a hugely increased risk of severe climate change impacts, including more frequent and severe droughts, heatwaves and other extreme weather events, and the potential to cross critical climate tipping points that will lead to irreversible changes in the climate system.

Earlier this week, the EU announced a plan to reduce 90pc of net greenhouse gas emissions by 2040, compared to 1990 levels. This 90pc reduction includes the full implementation of 2030 targets and a new framework for 2040, which includes an 80pc reduction in fossil fuel use, the phase out of coal and the use of carbon capture utilisation and storage (CCU and CCS).

The plan, which will not be finalised until after the European elections this summer, has faced criticism for rolling back on agricultural targets and for failing to include specific targets for the phase out of all fossil fuels.

The Climate Action Tracker labelled the new plan as “insufficient” to meet the goal of limiting global heating to 1.5 degrees Celsius. “The EU is continuing to fail to contribute its fair share to global climate action and should adopt at least a 95pc reduction by 2040 and substantially increase its climate finance support to countries in the Global South.”

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