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World experienced warmest February on record in 2024: European Union climate agency

The Copernicus Climate Change Service said that every month since June last year has been the warmest such month on record.
| Photo Credit: AP

The world, last month, experienced the warmest February on record, with the average temperature being 1.77 degrees Celsius more than the February average for 1850-1900, the designated pre-industrial reference period, the European Union’s climate agency said on March 7.

The Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S) also said that every month since June last year has been the warmest such month on record.

Scientists attribute the exceptional warming to the combined effects of El Nino — a period of abnormal warming of surface waters in the central Pacific Ocean — and human-caused climate change.

C3S last month said the global mean temperature breached the 1.5-degree Celsius threshold for an entire year for the first time in January. A permanent breach of the 1.5-degree Celsius limit specified in the Paris Agreement, however, refers to long-term warming over many years.

Explained | How El Nino could impact the world’s weather in 2023-24

According to climate scientists, countries need to limit the global average temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial period to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.

Earth’s global surface temperature has already increased by around 1.1 degrees Celsius compared with the average in 1850-1900 — a level that has not been witnessed since 1,25,000 years, before the most recent ice age.

This warming is considered the reason behind record droughts, wildfires and floods worldwide. With an average temperature of 13.54 degrees Celsius, February 2024 was 0.12 degrees Celsius warmer than the previous warmest February in 2016, the EU’s climate agency said.

“The month was 1.77 degrees Celsius warmer than an estimate of the February average for 1850-1900, the designated pre-industrial reference period,” C3S said in an update.

The global average temperature for the last 12 months (March 2023–February 2024) is the highest on record, at 0.68 degrees Celsius above the 1991-2020 average and 1.56 degrees Celsius above the 1850-1900 pre-industrial average.

“The daily global average temperature was exceptionally high during the first half of the month, reaching two degrees Celsius above the 1850-1900 levels on four consecutive days (February 8–11),” C3S scientists said.

The average global sea surface temperature (SST) for February 2024 was 21.06 degrees Celsius, the highest for any month in the dataset. The previous high was in August 2023 (20.98 degrees Celsius).

C3S director Carlo Buontempo said, “February joins the long streak of records of the last few months. As remarkable as this might appear, it is not really surprising as the continuous warming of the climate system inevitably leads to new temperature extremes.

“The climate responds to the actual concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere so, unless we manage to stabilise those, we will inevitably face new global temperature records and their consequences,” Mr. Buontempo said.

The World Meteorological Organization on Tuesday said the 2023-24 El Nino has peaked as one of the five strongest on record and will continue to impact global climate in the coming months despite a weakening trend.

The United Nations agency also said above-normal temperatures are predicted over almost all land areas between March and May. The WMO said there is about a 60% chance of El Nino persisting during March-May and an 80% likelihood of neutral conditions (neither El Nino nor La Nina) from April to June.

There is a chance of La Nina developing later in the year, but those odds are currently uncertain, it said. Scientists closely tracking the development in India have said La Nina conditions setting in by June-August could mean monsoon rains would be better this year than in 2023.

El Nino — a periodic warming of the ocean surface in the central and eastern tropical Pacific Ocean — occurs every two to seven years on average and typically lasts nine to 12 months.

It is associated with increased rainfall in the Horn of Africa and the southern U.S., and unusually dry and warm conditions in Southeast Asia, Australia and southern Africa.

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