‘Unprecedented’: Experts raise alarm over record temperatures

Despite millions of Australians feeling the chill as cold weather sweeps through the country, experts have sounded the alarm after global temperatures peaked past 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels in June for the first time.

Sea surface levels have also reached “unprecedented” temperatures and parts of the world suffered record heatwaves.

The European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service recorded the highest-ever global-mean surface air temperatures during the start of June, exceeding pre-industrial levels by more than 1.5 degrees.

Copernicus Climate Change Service deputy director Samantha Burgess said in an online statement that the world experienced its warmest early June, following a May that was less than 0.1 degree cooler than the warmest May on record.

“Monitoring our climate is more important than ever to determine how often and for how long global temperatures are exceeding 1.5 degrees,” Dr Burgess said.

“Every single fraction of a degree matters to avoid even more severe consequences of the climate crisis.”

The severity of those consequences are already being felt globally, with eight people reportedly dying during a heatwave in Mexico, where temperatures blitzed previous records and reached up to 35 degrees.

Professor Lesley Hughes, climate councillor and distinguished professor at Macquarie University, told The New Daily that a rise in average temperatures will cause more frequent and extreme weather events.

“A rise in average temperature would be expected to be accompanied by an increase in those really extreme heat events where we get deadly heatwaves,” she said.

“What goes with higher averages is more frequent and severe extremes.”

It is the third heatwave in Mexico since April, and it is estimated it will continue for another seven to 11 days.

Rising sea temperatures

Dr Anthony Rea, head of the Global Climate Observing System at the World Meteorological Organisation, said that unprecedented sea-surface temperatures are ringing alarm bells.

“Globally, sea surface levels are on average 0.2 degrees warmer than at the same time last year,” he said.

“This might not sound like much, but considering the total surface of the global oceans and their calorific capacity, it represents in fact an enormous amount of heat energy absorbed by the ocean.”

Global ocean temperatures hit a record high for two consecutive months leading into June, where sea surface temperatures remain “exceptionally high”.

The future

A World Meteorological Organisation report, the latest Global Annual to Decadal Climate Update for 2023-2027, found there is a 98 per cent chance that at least one of the next five years will be the warmest on record.

The report, which compiles data from several contributing centres worldwide including the CSIRO, also found there is a 66 per cent chance that the annual average of near-surface global temperatures between 2023 and 2027 will be more than 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels for at least one year.

Professor Hughes said with a change in weather trends it looks like Australia is heading into dry and hot weather, and potentially another extensive drought.

“The Australian government’s target is for a 43 per cent reduction by 2030 with net zero by 2050,” she said.

“We know from the science those targets are too weak. We need to be at net zero probably by 2035 to 2040 at the latest and the Climate Council has estimated that to do our fair share, we need to be at a 75 per cent target by 2030.”

A limit of 1.5 degrees increase is the benchmark countries signed up for in the Paris Agreement in 2015, with an overarching goal of holding “the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels”.

Professor Hughes said while emissions in Australia aren’t going up, they aren’t decreasing at a fast enough rate.

“They are going down from the energy sector because [of] all the renewables coming online, but unfortunately emissions from agriculture and transport continue to go up,” she said.

“We’ve got an even greater task ahead of us, given that Australia is one of the most vulnerable countries in the world to natural disasters like droughts, fires and floods.”

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