The world has a 50% chance before 2026 of experiencing at least a year of global average temperatures 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, according to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO).
This would be a temporary increase: a warm year over the next five.
“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,” explains Dr Leon Hermanson, a researcher at the UK’s Met Office and leader of the WMO’s Global Annual to Decadal Climate Update.
The WMO also says there’s a 93% chance of at least one of the next five years being the warmest on record. The previous warmest year on record was 2016.
In 2021, global temperatures were 1.1°C above average. Back-to-back La Niña events had a mild cooling effect on global temperatures, but this provided only temporary relief. A corresponding El Niño year, like 2016 was, would likely be much warmer.
“The 1.5°C figure is not some random statistic,” says WMO Secretary-General Professor 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.
“For as long as we continue to emit greenhouse gases, temperatures will continue to rise.
“Arctic warming is disproportionately high and what happens in the Arctic affects all of us.”
The report also predicts that Australia, on average, will experience a wetter 2022.
“This update highlights how fast we are warming the planet. It’s only six-and-a-half years since the Paris Agreement was adopted and we’re already seeing forecasts that we may experience brief exceedance of the 1.5°C global warming limit in the near future,” says University of Melbourne climate science lecturer Dr Andrew King, who was not involved with the report.
“While the Paris Agreement is about keeping global warming well below 2°C and preferably below 1.5°C in the long term, the possibility of surpassing the 1.5°C threshold, even if only for a year, is worrying,” adds King.
Professor Steven Sherwood, from the ARC Centre for Climate System Science and the University of New South Wales, who also was not involved with the report, agrees.
“To actually exceed the target, we’d have to be above 1.5C even in a ‘normal’ year, and that is much less likely. But the report reminds us that we are getting uncomfortably close to this target,” says Sherwood.
“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,” says King.
“Rapid and drastic emissions reductions are needed urgently if we are to have any chance of sticking to the Paris Agreement.”
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Ellen Phiddian is a science journalist at Cosmos. She has a BSc (Honours) in chemistry and science communication, and an MSc in science communication, both from the Australian National University.
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