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THE MONITOR

  • Albert Ji

More Attention Needed for Climate Change

During the last week of February, we had very warm weather at Hamilton College. In fact, not only the northeastern United States but also the whole world had an extremely warm

February.


According to Copernicus (an EU organization for recording climate data), February 2024 was the warmest February on record globally with an average surface air temperature of 13.54°C.

This is 0.81°C above the 1991-2020 average for February, and 0.12°C above the temperature

of the previous warmest February, in 2016. Moreover, the global average temperature in the

past twelve months from March 2023 to February 2024 was the highest on record, with 0.68°C above the 1991-2020 average and 1.56°C above the 1850-1900 pre-industrial average.


It's worth noting that this past twelve months was the first time on record that global average temperatures reached the 1.5-degree warming threshold of the Paris Agreement. In general, the overarching goal of the famous Paris Agreement is to hold “the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels” and pursue efforts “to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.” Although a 12-month temperature above 1.5 degrees does not mean that the world has exceeded this threshold (the agreement means that a 20-year average of the global mean temperature must exceed 1.5 degrees), this indicates that temperatures are still rising and we're getting closer and closer to the threshold.


In addition to the global warming caused by the burning of fossil fuels, another reason for the unusually high temperatures is that the ocean is particularly hot. According to Copernicus, the average global sea surface temperature (SST) for February 2024 over 60°S to 60°N was 21.06°C, which is the highest for any month in the dataset. The primary reason for this is the El Niño event that started in July 2023. El Niño is a climate pattern that describes the unusual warming of surface waters in the eastern Pacific Ocean. Because of climate change, the effects of El Niño events are increasing and the 2023–24 El Niño event is "one of the five strongest on record" according to the World Meteorological Organization. As a result, there is a significant warming of the ocean surface in the central and eastern tropical Pacific Ocean, thus sending a large amount of heat to the world.


As El Niño wanes, it's possible that the superheated temperatures on a global scale will

disappear in the next few months. However, it provides more evidence that the world needs to reduce emissions drastically and immediately. More importantly, this February's super-hot temperatures were not predicted by almost all weather scientists, indicating that the climate and environment are becoming less stable. Subsequent climate change is likely to become increasingly unpredictable and have more unintended consequences.


Unfortunately, this unusual weather phenomenon only got a limited amount of attention.

Given the public’s attention is narrowed (people can’t focus on everything in the world), they

can only focus on events that are more intuitive and have a greater short-term impact, such as geopolitical conflicts. While reports of superheated temperatures have appeared in major

media outlets, they have received far less attention than other news, which is because the

public has not yet recognized environmental issues as a basic survival issue. It can be seen

that as the world becomes increasingly unstable, environmental issues will become less of a

priority. Therefore, environmental protection can no longer be advanced by relying on public

concerns. Instead, more comprehensive environmental protection mechanisms should be

established by nations or international organizations to deal with environmental changes in a

more serious manner. Only in this way can environmental protection be made more

independent and resistant to the influence of political and international situations.

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