A leading scientist has warned that climate change could enter “uncharted territory” if global temperatures do not decline by year’s end.

This statement follows reports that this past March was the warmest on record globally, marking the tenth consecutive month of record-breaking temperatures. With April anticipated to continue this trend, concerns are intensifying that the planet may be on the brink of an accelerated phase of climate change.

Recent temperature rises have been partially attributed to El Niño, a climate pattern that has contributed additional warmth to the atmosphere already heated by fossil fuel emissions. Although El Niño began in June of the previous year and reached its peak in December, its influence is expected to diminish in the coming months, potentially leading to a temporary decrease in temperatures.

However, the uncertainty remains whether this reduction will materialise as some scientists had hoped.

“By the end of the summer, if we’re still looking at record breaking temperatures in the North Atlantic or elsewhere, then we really have kind of moved into uncharted territory,” Gavin Schmidt, the director of Nasa’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies said.

Data from the EU’s Copernicus Climate Change Service indicates that March 2024 was 1.68°C warmer than the pre-industrial era, a period before significant fossil fuel consumption commenced. While the long-term warming trend aligns with scientific expectations, the exceptional warmth at the end of 2023 has left researchers puzzled.

The record warmth in March was anticipated due to the combination of ongoing El Niño conditions and continuous greenhouse gas emissions. However, the scale of temperature increases since last September, when El Niño was still intensifying, suggests other factors may also be contributing to the recent spikes in temperature.

Dr. Schmidt expresses concern over these developments and their implications for future climate predictions.

“Our predictions failed quite dramatically for the specifics of 2023, and if previous statistics don’t work, then it becomes much harder to say what’s going to happen in the future,” he said.

“We’re still trying to understand why the situation changed so dramatically in the middle of last year, and how long this situation will continue, whether it is a phase shift or whether it’s a blip in long-term climate trends,” agrees Dr Samantha Burgess from Copernicus.

The current El Niño phase is expected to end soon, possibly giving way to a La Niña phase, which typically cools the ocean surface and could lead to a temporary reduction in global temperatures. But the exact trajectory of this potential shift remains uncertain.

“We’re definitely seeing a weakening of El Niño, but the question is, where will we end up?” says Michelle L’Heureux, a scientist with the NOAA climate prediction centre.

Despite these variables, the scientific consensus is clear on one aspect: the most effective way to halt further global warming is through the swift reduction of emissions from greenhouse gases. This remains the critical action point for addressing the ongoing climate crisis.

“We have this window in the coming years to try and mitigate the impacts of climate change, by cutting emissions,” says Dr Angélique Melet from Mercator Ocean International.

“I do understand the challenges but it’s also true that if we don’t act, we are committing ourselves towards a future where 2023 will be the new normal.”

“How fast will that happen? It depends on us.”



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