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  • Writer's pictureGregory Andrews

2023: The year we blew 1.5°C

Updated: Dec 31, 2023

In November 2023, while I was climate hunger-striking on the lawns of Australia's Parliament House, world-leading climate scientist Professor James Hansen from Columbia University in the United States was finalising a comprehensive scientific assessment of accelerating global warming. I often told people that doom scrolling on climate science was one of the things that drove me to my hunger strike. Well, James Hansen's just published paper presents a stark reality: this year, the world crossed the brink of 1.5°C of warming.


The implications of this breach are serious and demand swift, deep and purposeful action to protect our future and security. There’s no carbon budget or time left for distractions or dilly dallying. For Australia, that especially means urgently putting an end to our status as a petrostate that invests in coal and gas industries, subsidies and exports. Of course we will face structural adjustment impacts. But the costs of delay and inaction will be much higher. Indeed, they will be unbearable for us and the rest of the world.


Back in 2015 when the Paris Agreement was concluded, a worst-case scenario timeline of when the 1.5°C might be breached was 2030. Hansen’s analysis shows we’ve now past that point and we are heading into even more dangerous territory. The energy imbalance driving global temperature escalation has doubled in the past decade because emissions are still growing. Accelerated warming, now at almost 0.5°C per decade, starkly contrasts with less than 0.2°C in previous decades since 1970.

It's time to face a hard reality. One seemingly ignored by leaders and senior negotiators at COP28: global warming is not slowing down. In fact, it's hurtling towards more perilous thresholds. Based particularly on current El Nino impacts, Hansen has forecast that the global 12-month mean temperature will to rise to at least 1.6°C in the next six months. This will entrench the 1.5°C breach. There's no turning back.


So what does this mean for humanity and the Earth? The Paris Agreement goal was based on scientific consensus that keeping global warming under 1.5°C would avoid catastrophic climate impacts. New data suggests even this level of warming may be much more serious. As our climate now enters an accelerated warming phase above 1.5°C, irreversible and dangerous climate change tipping points and amplifications are inevitable. Just some of the consequences will be major reductions in Arctic and Antarctic ice, significant rises in sea levels, much more extreme weather, heat waves, catastrophic fires, huge losses of biodiversity, and exacerbation of inequalities and pressures that cause conflict and mass movements of people. Climate change is set to create turmoil - meteorologically, sociologically, economically and geopolitically.


The 1.5°C breach means continued greenwashing, delay and obfuscation by governments and corporations on climate change is not only imprudent but perilous and deeply immoral. Earth's escalating energy imbalance demands urgent attention and intervention. It's imperative that we move beyond political and bureaucratic confines, and obfuscation and rhetoric. The world, including Australia, must recognise and act on the urgency of the situation. In 2024, the Australian government has to finally get serious and be honest about the climate emergency. At the very least, that means no new coal or gas projects, an end to obscene fossil fuel subsidies, and an end of native forest logging.

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