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Climate

Earth Spent 12 Months Above the 1.5C Warming Limit

On the Paris Agreement, monarch butterflies, and a slumbering polar bear

Earth Spent 12 Months Above the 1.5C Warming Limit
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

Current conditions: Forest fires are under control in Chile’s Viña del Mar, but continue to burn in other parts of the country • Los Angeles recorded at least 475 mudslides due to the atmospheric river • It’s 75 degrees Fahrenheit and sunny in Naples, Florida, where a 9-acre beachfront retreat just hit the housing market for a record-breaking $295 million.

THE TOP FIVE

1. World exceeds 1.5C in warming for a full year

Temperatures on Earth have been more than 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels for a year, according to the European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S). New data shows that from February 2023 through January 2024, the average global temperature was 1.52 degrees Celsius higher than the 1850-1900 baseline. Last month was also the warmest January ever recorded, C3S confirmed. In 2015, 196 nations adopted the legally binding Paris Agreement with the long-term goal of limiting the global temperature increase to well below 2 degrees Celsius, and ideally below 1.5 degrees. A one-year breach doesn’t mean the target is bust, because it “refers to long-term warming – the IPCC uses 20 to 30 years – not annual temperatures that include the short-term influence of natural fluctuations in the climate, such as El Niño,” explainedCarbon Brief. However, some experts, including the new chief of the World Meteorological Organization, believe the rate of warming is speeding up.

C3S

2. New EPA air pollution rules could save thousands of lives

In case you missed it: The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rolled out new air pollution rules yesterday, cracking down on dangerous particulate matter. Previously, the EPA’s annual standard for concentrations of particulate matter was 12 micrograms per cubic meter (µg/m3). Based on epidemiological research showing that this standard did not adequately protect public health, the agency has now lowered the standard to 9 µg/m3. The rules are expected to prevent 4,500 premature deaths per year by 2032. The EPA also updated its Air Quality Index in conjunction with the new rules, which could mean that even as the air gets cleaner, you might get more air quality alerts, reported Heatmap’s Emily Pontecorvo.

3. Monarch butterfly numbers drop sharply

Heat, drought, and pesticides and herbicides are taking a toll on the monarch butterfly population. Numbers of the iconic orange butterflies in Mexico, where they spend the winter, fell by 59% this year to their second lowest level ever recorded, The Associated Press reported. Extreme weather, logging, and chemical treatments are all hurting the insects’ natural habitat and killing the milkweed plant on which they lay their eggs. “It has a lot to do with climate change,” said Gloria Tavera, director of Mexico’s Commission for National Protected Areas. The monarchs’ migration path is the longest of any insect species known to science: They winter in Mexico and then head north to Canada. No single butterfly survives the entire trek; instead their offspring finish it for them, before turning around and heading back to Mexico to start the process over again.

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  • 4. Orsted had a no good, very bad year

    Danish energy developer Orsted said yesterday that it had lost a ton of money on its experiment trying to build wind farms in the United States, and planned to take on way less risk going forward. The figures are pretty grim, as Heatmap’s Matthew Zeitlin reported: Orsted had 9.6 billion Danish kroner worth of fees (about $1.4 billion) related to one New Jersey project, Ocean Wind 1, and had booked $4 billion of losses, most of which were due to Ocean Wind 1’s cancellation. Overall, it reported a loss of almost $3 billion in 2023. Orsted also said it was pulling out of Norway, Spain, and Portugal. In a call with analysts, the company’s chief executive Mads Nipper said that Orsted will spend far less money on projects before making the final approval to go forward with construction.

    5. Study suggests thinking about future generations moves people to support climate policy

    Convincing people to change their habits and beliefs is very hard, but when it comes to the climate crisis, widespread behavioral shifts are essential. A new “global megastudy” of more than 59,000 participants across 63 countries attempted to figure out which “interventions” can be most effective at shifting beliefs and getting people to support climate policy. The results, published in Science Advances, show that the act of writing a letter to future generations was “one of the top interventions tested.” Participants had to pen a note to a hypothetical child who will be turning 30 in the year 2055, detailing what they’re doing now to help keep the planet healthy. This exercise was the most effective intervention at nudging people toward supporting climate mitigation policies.

    THE KICKER

    Nima Sarikhani / Wildlife Photographer of the Year

    “Ice Bed,” by Nima Sarikhani, is the winner of the 2023 Wildlife Photographer of the Year 59 People's Choice Award. The picture shows a male polar bear drifting off to sleep on a small iceberg off the Svalbard archipelago. “I hope that this photograph also inspires hope,” Sarikhani said. “There is still time to fix the mess we have caused.” The competition is developed and produced by the Natural History Museum, London.

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    Jessica Hullinger

    Jessica Hullinger is a freelance writer and editor who likes to think deeply about climate science and sustainability. She previously served as Global Deputy Editor for The Week, and her writing has been featured in publications including Fast Company, Popular Science, and Fortune. Jessica is originally from Indiana but lives in London. Read More

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