World could see 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming in next five years, WMO reports

LONDON: The world faces a 50 per cent chance of warming of 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, if only briefly, by 2026, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said on Monday (May 9).

That does not mean the world would be crossing the long-term warming threshold of 1.5 degrees Celsius, which scientists have set as the ceiling for avoiding catastrophic climate change.

But a year of warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius could offer a taste of what crossing that long-term threshold would be like.

“We are getting measurably closer to temporarily reaching the lower target of the Paris Agreement,” said WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas, referring to climate accords adopted in 2015.

The likelihood of exceeding 1.5 degrees Celsius for a short period has been rising since 2015, with scientists in 2020 estimating a 20 per cent chance and revising that last year up to 40 per cent. Even one year at 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming can have dire impacts, such as killing many of the world’s coral reefs and shrinking Arctic sea ice cover.

In terms of the long-term average, the average global temperature is now about 1.1 degrees Celsius warmer than the pre-industrial average.

“Loss and damage associated with, or exacerbated by, climate change is already occurring, some of it likely irreversible for the foreseeable future,” said Maxx Dilley, deputy director of climate at the WMO.

World leaders pledged under the 2015 Paris Agreement to prevent crossing the long-term 1.5 degrees Celsius threshold – measured as a multi-decadal average – but so far have fallen short on cutting climate-warming emissions. Today’s activities and current policies have the world on track to warm by about 3.2 degrees Celsius by the end of the century.

“It’s important to remember that once we hit 1.5 degrees Celsius, the lack of science-based emissions policies mean that we will suffer worsening impacts as we approach 1.6 degrees Celsius, 1.7 degrees Celsius, and every increment of warming thereafter,” said Kim Cobb, a climate scientist at the Georgia Institute of Technology.