Annual average global warming has a 50-50 chance of blowing past the crucial 1.5°C threshold in at least one of the next five years, and at least one year between 2022 to 2026 has 93% odds of being the warmest on record, according to analysis produced by the UK Met Office and released this week by the World Meteorological Organization.
“A single year of exceedance above 1.5°C does not mean we have breached the iconic threshold of the Paris agreement, but it does reveal that we are edging ever closer to a situation where 1.5°C could be exceeded for an extended period,” said the report’s lead author, Met Office predictive modeller Dr. Leon Hermanson.
“The 1.5°C figure is not some random statistic,” added WMO Secretary-General Prof. Petteri Taalas. “It is rather an indicator of the point at which climate impacts will become increasingly harmful for people and indeed the entire planet.”
Taalas added that “for as long as we continue to emit greenhouse gases, temperatures will continue to rise. And alongside that, our oceans will continue to become warmer and more acidic, sea ice and glaciers will continue to melt, sea level will continue to rise, and our weather will become more extreme. Arctic warming is disproportionately high, and what happens in the Arctic affects all of us.”
The likelihood of average warming exceeding 1.5°C in each of the next five years is just 10%, Politico reports. But “breaching 1.5° warming, even for a year, would be a blow to climate diplomacy efforts, which have focused on efforts to keep warming under the 1.5 target.”
At the COP 26 climate summit in Glasgow last fall, the UK government declared “keeping 1.5 alive” its chief goal, Politico recalls. “But governments have not matched that ambition with the kind of emissions cuts needed to cap warming at that limit. That has put the world on track to overshoot 1.5° as a long-term average in the 2030s, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said last year,” with catastrophic impacts to follow as a result.
Observers agreed with Hermanson that one year above 1.5°C would not in itself put an end to the essential target in the Paris climate deal. But it’s still just the latest warning that countries have to pick up the pace on emission reductions.
“The possibility of surpassing the 1.5C threshold, even if only for a year, is worrying,” Dr. Andrew King, a climate extremes research fellow at the University of Melbourne, told The Guardian. “Our greenhouse gas emissions are still at near-record highs, and until we get emissions down to net-zero, we’re going to continue to see global warming. Rapid and drastic emissions reductions are needed urgently.”
“To actually exceed the [Paris] target we’d have to be above 1.5°C even in a ‘normal’ year” unaffected by natural climate variations, added Prof. Steven Sherwood, an atmospheric scientist at the University of New South Wales. “But the report reminds us that we are getting uncomfortably close to this target.”
That was a reference to El Niño, a natural meteorological phenomenon that warms the surface waters of the eastern Pacific Ocean and can shift weather patterns around the world.