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Scientists warn the next 5 years will breach 1.5°C – That doesn't mean the climate fight is over


a purple and yellow sky over a scarce forest
Image Credit: The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration // Unsplash

Since 2014 the Earth has experienced its eight warmest years, with 2016 holding the record as the hottest year in history. Now, the next five years will likely be the hottest yet, with the crucial 1.5°C threshold “more than likely” getting crossed, according to the newest report by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO).


Last year the WMO placed the bet that the world would reach 1.5°C (2.7 °F) at about 50-50. In 2015, the prospect was bordering zero, but since, every year, the possibility has risen by about 10%.


Now, the report, published on Wednesday, puts those odds at a 66% chance of reaching the pivotal temperature between 2023 and 2027. If those odds weren’t high enough to put money on, the chances that the world will have the hottest year on the books in the next five years is 98%.


However, the staggering probabilities are not a reason to opt out of the climate fight. On the contrary, the alarm is all the more reason to keep going, especially to ensure that the 1.5°C temperature does not reach permanence.


“This report does not mean that we will permanently exceed the 1.5°C level specified in the Paris Agreement which refers to long-term warming over many years,” WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas explained.


“However, WMO is sounding the alarm that we will breach the 1.5°C level on a temporary basis with increasing frequency.”


Image Credit: World Meteorological Organization (WMO)

In case you forgot, the reason avoiding 1.5°C of warming is so important is because, as the Paris Agreement outlined, crossing it means unleashing far more severe climate change impacts, including more frequent and severe droughts, heatwaves, and rainfall, and in turn stronger natural disasters like wildfires and hurricanes.


The world is already getting a taste of this future, from the historic heatwaves currently scalding Asia, made 30 times more possible because of climate change, to the climate-fueled summer of drought looming over Southern Europe following the UK’s record hot 2022 made 160 times more possible due to the crisis.


“Global mean temperatures are predicted to continue increasing, moving us away further and further away from the climate we are used to,” said Leon Hermanson, an expert scientist at the United Kingdom’s Met Office of weather and climate change, who led the report.


The phenomena in Europe are predicted to increase over the coming years, with the hotter planet affecting different parts of the world in vastly different ways.


melting sheet of ice
Image Credit: Wolfgang Hasselmann // Unsplash

For example, while Europe, Siberia, and Alaska will experience higher levels of rain, colliding with disproportionately high Arctic warming, Australia, Indonesia, and the Amazon will see reduced rainfall. Combined with increased heat and growing deforestation in Brazil, this weaves a cautionary tale for the biggest biodiversity hotspot on the planet.


“This report must be a rallying cry to intensify global efforts to tackle the climate crisis,” Doug Parr, Chief Scientist at Greenpeace UK said, adding that “every tenth of a degree of warming we can avoid will reduce the chances of extreme weather across the world and its human cost.”


“For too long, governments have dithered while allowing the fossil fuel and industrial food industries to reap obscene profits from their destruction of our climate. It is time for united international action to put a stop to their profiteering before it is too late.”


fossil fuels spewing into the air on an orange sky
Image Credit: Marek Piwnicki // Unsplash

The science behind the increasing temperature comes down to the impact of a developing El Niño weather system, creating heatwaves across the globe.


El Niño is part of an oscillating weather system that develops in the Pacific Ocean. The weather system swings back and forth and for the past three years, the world has been in the opposing phase, known as La Niña, which has had a dampening effect on temperature increases worldwide.


Hurricane in water
Image Credit: Wesley Shen // Unsplash

This climate pattern occurs on average every two to seven years and usually lasts nine months to a year. However, with climate change, these natural changes reach heightened magnitudes. As the United Nations put it in a tweet, “Our survival on this planet hinges on these few degrees.”


“The difference between 1.5°C & 3°C global warming means vastly different scenarios for the future,” the UN wrote, adding “Addressing the climate crisis & limiting temperature rise is possible, if we #ActNow.”


As a new El Niño develops, the likelihood of higher temperatures and natural disasters develops too, meaning that in addition to addressing the climate crisis through mitigation efforts, the world also needs to ramp up its adaptation measures, Taalas explains.


“A warming El Niño is expected to develop in the coming months and this will combine with human-induced climate change to push global temperatures into uncharted territory. This will have far-reaching repercussions for health, food security, water management, and the environment,” he said. “We need to be prepared.”


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