Earth surpassed ‘doomed’ 2.7F global warming limit for the first time in 2023 – which scientists say was hottest in 100,000 years

The Earth exceeded 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit (1.5C) of warming in a 12-month period for the first time since scientists began recording global temperatures.

Scientists called this news on a ‘warning to humanity’ on Thursday, when the measurement was announced by the European Union‘s Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S).

Last year was the hottest year on record, and scientists suspect El Niño and global warming combined to make it the hottest year in 100,000 years.

This 2.7 degree figure , covering February 2023 through January 2024, was taken in comparison to temperatures from the preindustrial period, the era that ended around 1900.

If energy production around the world does not shift away from fossil fuels toward renewable sources, this trend will worsen, climate scientists said. 

Wildfires in Chile have killed at least 122 people this month. They are believed to be the deadliest in the country’s history

Global warming projections depend on the quality of the available data, and they always contain some degree of uncertainty, so there is a spotty track record of which ones came to pass and which didn’t.

Some have come true, including ExxonMobil’s decades-old projections about the role of fossil fuels in global warming.

Others have not, like Paul Ehrlich’s 1970 prediction that 100 to 200 million people per year would starve to death by 1980.

It remains to be seen which of the dire predictions for our planet’s future will come to pass. 

In the Paris climate agreement, scientists identified a 2.7-degree rise as the average temperature increase that Earth should not surpass.

They warned that passing this point will spell irreversible harm to the planet and future generations of people.

Record-breaking rainfalls led to multiple major floods in New Zealand in 2023, destroying property and claiming lives

Record-breaking rainfalls led to multiple major floods in New Zealand in 2023, destroying property and claiming lives

The new milestone is a major threshold, but scientists have pointed out that this one-year average does not mean that the Earth has permanently crossed the line – the global averages are measured in decades, not single years.

Nonetheless, 2023 was the hottest year on record, and last month was the hottest January on record. 

‘Rapid reductions in greenhouse gas emissions are the only way to stop global temperatures increasing,’ C3S deputy director Samantha Burgess told the South China Morning Post. 

These trends may be long-term, but the effects of the heat are readily apparent.

Catastrophically low harvests of cocoa beans in West Africa, caused by historic drought, have driven prices of the commodity through the roof

Catastrophically low harvests of cocoa beans in West Africa, caused by historic drought, have driven prices of the commodity through the roof

The past year brought a spate of natural disasters, many of which can be linked directly to climate change: floods in New Zealand, droughts in Spain, and wildfires in Chile. And the list goes on.

‘We are touching 1.5C and we see the cost, the social costs and economic costs,’ Johan Rockstrom of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research told AFP.

In addition to the destruction of crops and property, these disasters are deadly.  Over 100 people have died in the Chilean fires so far.

‘1.5 is a very big number and it hurts us really badly in terms of heat waves, droughts, floods, reinforced storms, water scarcity across the entire world,’ Rockstrom said. ‘That is what 2023 has taught us.’

And signs don’t look much better for 2024.

Climate predictions that came true 

  • In the late 1970s, petroleum company ExxonMobil predicted that its fossil fuel products could lead to global warming. Scientists analyzing their data in 2023 called the oil company’s predictions ‘breathtakingly accurate.’
  • In 1990, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change wrote its first report, predicting that the Earth would warm about 1.1 degree Celsius by 2030. This prediction turned out to be accurate, but sooner than expected: This past decade’s average rise was 1.1 Celsius above pre-industrial levels.
  • In 1985 the Villach conference report alerted scientists to the possible link between greenhouse gases and climate change. The overwhelming scientific consensus 39 years later supports this idea.

Climate predictions that did not come true 

  • In 1970, biologist Paul Ehrlich predicted that 100 to 200 million people would starve to death each year by 1980. According to a 2021 report from the United Nations World Food Program, that figure is closer to 9 million per year.
  • In 1970 some experts predicted a new ice age in the 21st century. This has obviously not happened. 
  • A 1979 New York Times story predicted that people who were infants then would live to see the North Pole melt. This has not yet happened, but scientists have predicted the Arctic will have its first ice-free year in the 2030s.

Storm Ciaran destroyed crops in Western Europe in October and November, leaving farmers uncertain about their futures

Storm Ciaran destroyed crops in Western Europe in October and November, leaving farmers uncertain about their futures

Scientists have given this year one-in-three odds of being hotter than last year, and a 99-percent chance of ranking among the five hottest years on record. 

2023’s record heat admittedly came not just from long-term global warming trends but also some shorter-term events.

The naturally-occurring El Niño weather pattern, for instance, caused droughts that destroyed cacao crops in West Africa and drove global chocolate prices through the roof.

Even as this weather event weakened, average global sea surface temperatures were higher than any January on record.

And some of the science remains uncertain, with a recent study on sea sponges suggesting that the Earth actually already passed the 2.7-degree threshold – four years ago