Hottest May makes 12 straight months of record global temperatures

Hottest May makes 12 straight months of record global temperatures

The world faced the hottest May on record, completing 12 months in a row that have set a new global temperature record for that time of year.

The average temperature last month was 1.52C above the pre-industrial average, according to the Copernicus Climate Change Service, known as C3S.

The average global temperature for the 12-month period to the end of May was 1.63C (2.9F) above the pre-industrial average – making it the warmest such period since record-keeping began in 1940, the service added.

“It is shocking but not surprising that we have reached this 12-month streak,” said Carlo Buontempo, director of C3S, which is backed by the European Union.

“While this sequence of record-breaking months will eventually be interrupted, the overall signature of climate change remains and there is no sign in sight of a change in such a trend.”

This 12-month average does not mean that the world has yet surpassed the 1.5C (2.7F) global warming threshold, which describes a temperature average over decades, beyond which scientists warn of more extreme and irreversible impacts.

But in a separate report, the UN’s World Meteorological Organization (WMO) predicted there is an 80 per cent chance that average global temperatures will surpass the 1.5C target laid out in the landmark 2015 Paris Agreement within the next five years. The WMO said the global mean near-surface temperature for each year from 2024 to 2028 is expected to range between 1.1C and 1.9C hotter than at the start of the industrial era.

Graph shows monthly air temperatures from 1940 to 2024 above pre-industrial levels (Copernicus)
Graph shows monthly air temperatures from 1940 to 2024 above pre-industrial levels (Copernicus)

Speaking about the findings, UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres emphasised how quickly the world was heading in the wrong direction and away from stabilising its climate system.

“In 2015, the chance of such a breach was near zero,” said Mr Guterres in a speech marking World Environment Day. “We need an exit ramp off the highway to climate hell,” he said, adding: “The battle for 1.5 degrees will be won or lost in the 2020s.”

With time running out to reverse course, Mr Guterres urged a 30 per cent cut in global fossil fuel production and use by 2030. He also hit out at fossil fuel companies as “the godfathers of climate chaos”.

Drawing a comparison with many governments’ restrictions on advertising for harmful substances like tobacco, he said: “I urge every country to ban advertising from fossil fuel companies, and I urge news media and tech companies to stop taking fossil fuel advertising.”

The C3S data for May 2024 shows that:

  • Global average temperature was 0.65C above the 1991-2020 average.

  • It was the 11th straight month of temperature rising by more than 1.5C, the limit set by the 2015 Paris Agreement.

  • Global average temperature for the last 12 months, between June 2023 and May 2024, is the highest on record, 0.75C above the 1991–2020 average and 1.63C above the 1850–1900 pre-industrial average.

“For the past year, every turn of the calendar has turned up the heat. Our planet is trying to tell us something. But we don’t seem to be listening,” said Mr Guterres.

“We’re shattering global temperature records and reaping the whirlwind. It’s climate crunch time. Now is the time to mobilise, act and deliver.”

It comes as the world is reeling under intense heatwaves from Asia to the Americas. Scorching heat has contributed to the deaths of more than 200 people in India. Mexico has seen at least 61 deaths during a month-long heatwave.

In April, dozens of countries in Asia saw record-breaking heatwaves, which in turn also prompted extreme and untimely rainfall causing floods and landslides that killed thousands.

Studies have shown that most of these extreme weather events in the last few years have been made worse due to the climate crisis caused by carbon pollution which traps the heat in our planet’s atmosphere.

“We are living in unprecedented times, but we also have unprecedented skill in monitoring the climate and this can help inform our actions,” said Mr Buontempo.

“This string of hottest months will be remembered as comparatively cold but if we manage to stabilise the concentrations of GHGs in the atmosphere in the very near future we might be able to return to these ‘cold’ temperatures by the end of the century.”

Reuters and AP contributed to this report