Warmest February ever extends streak of climate records

Mild European winter pushes temperatures 1.8°C above pre-industrial levels

Chairlifts in Davos, Switzerland. There was notably little snow in the Alps in February. Bloomberg
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Last month was the warmest February ever recorded, satellite data has revealed.

An especially mild, wet winter in Europe helped extend a “long streak” of climate records, says the EU's Copernicus programme.

Global temperatures in February were almost 1.8°C warmer than was typical in pre-industrial times.

A sustained rise of more than 1.5°C above that benchmark would mean the world misses its key climate target.

In Europe, February was 3.3°C warmer than even the more recent norm of 1991 to 2020.

It was the ninth month in a row to set a new global temperature record for that time of year.

“February joins the long streak of records of the last few months,” said Carlo Buontempo, the director of the Copernicus climate change service.

“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.”

The three months of winter combined were also the warmest on record. Sea surface temperatures in February beat the all-time high of August last year.

There was notably little snow in the Alps, often limited to the highest peaks. One part of southern Germany had a peak of almost 19°C in February, with mild Atlantic air credited with bringing warm weather to Europe.

Arctic sea ice held up better than in many recent years, but is still well below what was typical for the 1980s and 1990s.

There were unusually wet conditions in much of Europe, as well as parts of North America, China, Japan and Brazil.

The weather phenomenon known as El Nino has shown signs of weakening after being linked to flooding and drought in parts of the world.

However, it is expected to keep pushing temperatures up in the spring, adding to the impact of greenhouse gases.

Scientists warn that breaching the 1.5°C threshold would gravely increase the risk of climate-related natural disasters. At a rise of 2°C, extreme heatwaves that used to be a once-in-50-year event would occur every three to four years, according to leading estimates.

At last year's Cop28 climate talks in the UAE, almost 200 countries agreed to a process of “transitioning away” from fossil fuels in order to cut emissions.

New figures have shown that CO2 emissions are rising at their slowest rate since the Great Depression as clean energy comes to the fore.

However, the fact they are still rising at all means the world is running out of time to cut them and keep the 1.5°C goal alive.

Updated: March 07, 2024, 12:44 PM