There’s a 40% chance that average global warming will temporarily exceed 1.5°C in at least one of the next five years, according to analysis published last week by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). But that doesn’t mean a long-term cap on warming is out of reach, according to at least one leading climate analyst.
“Average temperatures are likely to be at least 1°C warmer in each of the coming five years, with the WMO estimating they’ll be between 0.9°C and 1.8°C,” Bloomberg Green reports. And “there’s a 90% likelihood that at least one year between 2021 and 2025 will become the warmest on record, dislodging 2016 from the top slot.”
The 1.5°C threshold “is significant because most global leaders committed to taking actions that would limit global warming to 1.5ºC and well below 2ºC by the end of the century when they signed the Paris Agreement in 2015,” Bloomberg adds. The past seven years have been the seven warmest ever recorded, and 2020 tied with 2016 for the warmest on record, at 1.2°C above pre-industrial levels.
“This study shows—with a high level of scientific skill—that we are getting measurably and inexorably closer to the lower target of the Paris Agreement on climate change,” said WMO Secretary General Petteri Taalas.
“These are more than just statistics,” he added. “Increasing temperatures mean more melting ice, higher sea levels, more heat waves and other extreme weather, and greater impacts on food security, health, the environment, and sustainable development.”
The report shows that “high-latitude regions and the Sahel are likely to be wetter” through the end of 2025, UN News writes, “and there is an increased chance of more tropical cyclones in the Atlantic compared to the average, taken from the start of the 1980s.”
Taalas said the study, led by the UK Met Office, points to the need for wider climate adaptation efforts, beginning with effective early warning systems that are only in place in half of the 193 WMO member countries. “We are having severe gaps in weather observations, especially in Africa and island states,” he warned. “This has a major negative impact on the accuracy of the early warnings in those areas and globally.”
While the study is “yet another wakeup call”, in Taalas’ words, for faster, deeper carbon cuts, Climate Nexus Strategic Communications Director Hunter Cutting took to Twitter to warn against over-interpreting the results.
“In what appears will now be an annual event, today’s WMO report is being misrepresented as projecting that we might hit the Paris Climate Agreement 1.5°C temperature target in the next handful of years,” he wrote, in the first part of a 14-tweet thread. “This is FALSE.”
The confusion comes from differences in the way the WMO, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), and the UN climate secretariat (UNFCCC) define 1.5°C.
“When the IPCC and the UNFCCC/Paris Agreement refer to ‘1.5°C’ they refer to the average long-term temperature of the atmosphere, long-term being like the average over 30 years,” Cutting explained. “However, the WMO is referring to the global air temperature measured in just one year, which is highly misleading as year-to-year variability of global surface air temperature is huge.”
The IPCC/UNFCCC definition is the one that matters, he said, for two reasons: it’s what governments have agreed to, and “much more importantly, the climate impacts that we care about are assessed according to the IPCC definition.”
Cutting added that “when we successfully limit warming to 1.5°C, there will be a lot of years when the global air temperature will be higher than 1.5 and a lot of years when it will be lower.” But meanwhile, “this panic-inducing distortion that we might hit ‘1.5°C’ in the next few years is not helpful. We’ve already got plenty to panic about, we don’t need to worry that we will hit the Paris 1.5 target in the next handful of years.”