Turn on the news during scorching summer heatwaves and wildfires and you’ll likely hear warnings that average global temperatures are rising towards a key limit of 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial times, intended to avoid the worst of climate change.
What you probably won’t hear is that billions of people worldwide are already experiencing local warming of higher than 1.5°C (2.7 Fahrenheit) - the most ambitious global goal set in the 2015 Paris climate agreement.
Several scientists told Context that people living in Europe, the Arctic, much of Africa, North America, the Middle East, Asia and parts of South America have in recent years been exposed to regional temperatures that breached the 1.5°C ceiling.
They are being hit hard by the ever-more damaging heatwaves, droughts, floods, storms and wildfires fuelled by temperatures above the 1.5°C Paris Agreement threshold, the scientists said.
“Many people are living in areas that have already warmed more than 1.5°C, and … the main reason for this is that the land warms faster than the oceans,” said Robert Rohde, chief scientist at Berkeley Earth, a US non-profit research group.
With temperatures varying naturally from day to day, it is hard for anyone to notice a long-term local change of 1.5°C.
But the creeping rise in regional temperatures on land - which accounts for only 30 per cent of the planet’s surface - is super-charging increasingly extreme weather for its 8 billion people.
Worldwide, July was the hottest month on record at exactly the Paris limit of 1.5°C. UN Secretary-General António Guterres said this heralded a new era of “global boiling”.
And ever more people are facing global warming of 1.5°C or above year-round.
We’ve already breached 1.5 temporarily. Ironically, we were over 1.5 when the Paris Agreement was adopted. With all probability we will overshoot 1.5.
Samantha Burgess, deputy director, Copernicus
Francesco Tubiello, a senior statistician at the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), said nations with a combined population of almost 3 billion people were exposed to more than 1.5°C of warming in 2022, based on his personal calculations.
“This is a conservative figure,” Tubiello added. He compared 2022 with cooler temperatures from 1951-80, the baseline in an FAO and NASA database, when global warming had already added about 0.3C since pre-industrial times.
In a 2018 report, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimated that 20-40 per cent of the world’s population had experienced more than 1.5°C of warming “in at least one season”.