Assessing extinction risk from climate drivers is a major goal of conservation science. Few studies, however, include a long-term perspective of climate change. Without explicit integration, such long-term temperature trends and their interactions with short-term climate change may be so dominant that they blur or even reverse apparent pattern. Here we evaluate how observed extinctions in the geological past can be predicted from the interaction of long-term temperature trends with short-term climate change. We compare synergistic palaeoclimate interaction (i.e. a short-term change on top of a long-term trend in the same direction) to antagonistic palaeoclimate interaction such as long-term cooling followed by short-term warming. We find that the effect size of palaeoclimate interactions is similar to other key factors such as geographic range, abundance, or clade membership. Insights arising from this previously unknown driver of extinction risk might attenuate recent predictions of climate-change induced biodiversity loss.