‘50:50’ chance global warming reaches 1.5°C by 2026

The probability has crept from nil in 2015, to 10 per cent in the last five years.

heatwave China
Pedestrians shield themselves with umbrellas from the scorching sun on a street in Fuzhou city, southeast China's Fujian province. Image: ChinaimagesCC BY-NC-ND 4.0

There is a 48 per cent chance that the global warming limit the world pledged to stay under will be breached in the next five years, according to projections by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO).

A new temperature record will almost certainly be set by 2026, the international agency said. The current high of 1.1 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels was recorded in 2016.

It is the latest warning that humanity is not in control of climate change, despite the many policy promises made to steer the world economy away from deforestation and the use of fossil fuels. The use of coal, the most pollutive fossil fuel, reached a record high last year.

Annual temperatures are expected to be 1.1 to 1.7°C above pre-industrial levels in the next five years, WMO said.

Average temperatures across the period will likely be higher than the past five years, it added.

“We are getting measurably closer to temporarily reaching the lower target of the Paris Agreement on climate change,” said WMO secretary-general, professor Petteri Taalas.

Countries globally vowed to keep climate change to well under 2°C, and strive for 1.5°C, in a landmark climate deal called the Paris Agreement in 2015. The 1.5°C target was reiterated last November at COP26, a global climate conference.

A 2018 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a global group of researchers under the United Nations, stated that floods, droughts, poverty and hunger will be substantially higher if global warming exceeds 1.5°C.

“The 1.5°C figure is not some random statistic. It is rather an indicator of the point at which climate impacts will become increasingly harmful for people and indeed the entire planet,” said Taalas.

But any temperature overshoot in the next five years will likely be temporary, WMO added. The chance of the average temperature across the next five years crossing 1.5°C is about 10 per cent, according to its data.

“A single year of exceedance above 1.5°C does not mean we have breached the iconic threshold of the Paris Agreement, said Dr Leon Hermanson, a researcher at the United Kingdom Meteorological Office who led the WMO report.

“But it does reveal that we are edging ever closer to a situation where 1.5°C could be exceeded for an extended period,” he added.

An IPCC report last month stated that overshooting 1.5°C is “almost inevitable”. Getting global temperatures under that threshold again towards the end of the century will require concerted climate action, such as deploying more solar panels, wind turbines and forest protection projects, it added.

The Arctic is expected to face much warmer winters in the coming years, with temperature anomalies three times larger than the global average, according to the WMO.

A major concern in the polar region is the Greenland ice sheet, which could contribute to metres of sea level rise, depending on how much of it melts in the coming years.

Elsewhere, the tropics are expected to become more rainy around the start of the year, continuing a trend that has already brought more frequent and severe storms and floods to the region. The higher latitudes are expected to dry up more over the same period.

Meanwhile, Africa and northern Eurasia may experience wetter mid-years.

The global temperature could shoot up quickly should an El Nino event occur in the coming years, WMO added.

The climate event is a natural phenomenon that warms the eastern part of the Pacific Ocean and influences global weather patterns.

The opposite phenomenon, La Nina, has been keeping global temperatures down in recent years.

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