Unprecedented, scorching temperatures around the world are on the horizon, warns the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). Greenhouse gases coupled with an impending El Niño event are anticipated to thrust our planet into new thermal territory over the next five years.
The WMO’s latest update presents a daunting 66% likelihood that at least one year between 2023 and 2027 will see the annual average near-surface global temperature exceed 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.
Furthermore, there’s a staggering 98% chance that one or more of the upcoming five years will set new warmth records, with the five-year span as a whole anticipated to be the hottest yet recorded.
WMO Secretary-General, Professor Petteri Taalas, clarified, “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.”
Nevertheless, the WMO is adamant about the imminent risk of breaching the 1.5°C threshold temporarily with increasing frequency.
“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,” said Professor Taalas.
The impact of this trend, he highlighted, will extend beyond mere scorching temperatures and meteorological records. It also has the potential implications for health, food security, water management, and the environment at large. He urged preparedness in face of these unprecedented climatic challenges.
The UK’s Met Office, leading the WMO’s climate predictions, indicates that the five-year mean exceeding the 1.5°C threshold holds a less intimidating but still significant 32% likelihood. The odds of breaching the 1.5°C mark, even temporarily, have been on the rise since 2015, when the likelihood was virtually nil. By contrast, between 2017 and 2021, the odds had grown to a notable 10%.
Dr Leon Hermanson, a Met Office expert scientist who spearheaded the report, expressed concern over the forecast. “Global mean temperatures are predicted to continue increasing, moving us away further and further away from the climate we are used to,” he stated.
The average global temperature in 2022 stood roughly 1.15°C above the 1850-1900 average. La Niña conditions over the past three years have momentarily slowed the long-term warming, but with La Niña’s end in March 2023 and an impending El Niño, the currently scorching temperatures are expected to rise even further in 2024.
Every year between 2023 and 2027 is predicted to record an annual mean global near-surface temperature between 1.1°C and 1.8°C above the 1850-1900 average – a time when industrial activities and human behaviors had yet to contribute significantly to greenhouse gas emissions.
The likelihood of at least one year in the next five breaking the 2016 record temperature – a year of an exceptionally potent El Niño – is 98%.
The five-year average for 2023-2027 surpassing the last five years stands at a similar 98% chance.
The Arctic is warming at an alarming rate, with the temperature anomaly predicted to be over three times the global mean anomaly throughout the next five northern hemisphere winters.
Rainfall patterns from May to September 2023-2027, compared to the 1991-2020 average, predict more rain in the Sahel, northern Europe, Alaska, and northern Siberia, and less in the Amazon and parts of Australia.
The Paris Agreement, which aims to substantially reduce global greenhouse gas emissions and limit the global temperature increase and the scorching temperatures this century to 2 °C – ideally to
1.5 °C – is even more critical given these projections. Greenhouse gases, primarily human-induced, are causing not only global temperatures to rise but also leading to increased ocean heating and acidification, more rapid melting of sea ice and glaciers, rising sea levels, and an uptick in extreme weather events.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change asserts that the risks climate change poses to both natural and human systems are significantly higher for global warming of 1.5 °C compared to the current state, and far more severe at 2 °C.
The urgency of these findings is underscored by the timing of the report’s release, just ahead of the World Meteorological Congress (22 May to 2 June). The Congress will focus on bolstering weather and climate services to aid in climate change adaptation.
Key items on the agenda include the ongoing Early Warnings for All initiative, aiming to protect people from increasingly extreme weather, and the development of a new Greenhouse Gas Monitoring Infrastructure to better inform climate mitigation efforts.
The rallying cry from the scientific community is clear: increasing global temperatures are a reality we must face. It’s not just about hotter summers; it’s about a fundamental shift in our planet’s climate system. The question now is, how will we respond? The time for preparation and action is now. After all, our future, as these predictions indicate, is likely to be warmer than our past.
Global warming refers to the long-term increase in Earth’s average temperature due to human activities, primarily the emission of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), and nitrous oxide (N2O). This gradual rise in scorching temperatures, which began during the Industrial Revolution, has accelerated in recent decades, with the warmest years on record occurring since the late 20th century.
The primary driver of global warming is the greenhouse effect. Certain gases in Earth’s atmosphere, known as greenhouse gases, trap heat from the sun, preventing it from escaping back into space. This natural process is vital for life as it keeps the planet warm enough to sustain it.
However, human activities such as burning fossil fuels (coal, oil, and natural gas) for energy and deforestation have increased the concentration of these gases in the atmosphere, enhancing the greenhouse effect and causing the planet to heat up more than it naturally would.
The effects of global warming are widespread and potentially devastating. They include:
As global temperatures rise, these scorching temperatures have a direct impact on polar ice caps and glaciers melt, adding more water to the oceans. Additionally, the water in the oceans expands as it warms. Both these factors contribute to a rise in sea levels, which can lead to coastal flooding and the loss of habitable land.
Global warming contributes to more frequent and intense weather events such as heatwaves, droughts, heavy rainfall, and hurricanes. These can have devastating effects on human societies and natural ecosystems.
The oceans absorb about a quarter of the CO2 humans produce. When CO2 dissolves in seawater, it forms carbonic acid, leading to ocean acidification. This change in ocean chemistry is harmful to marine life, particularly organisms with calcium carbonate shells or skeletons, such as corals, shellfish, and some types of plankton.
Global warming affects ecosystems and habitats, threatening wildlife and biodiversity. Some species may be unable to survive or reproduce in warmer conditions or may be unable to move to more suitable habitats, leading to population declines or even extinction.
Warmer temperatures can lead to heat-related illnesses and deaths. They can also contribute to the spread of diseases carried by vectors such as mosquitoes and ticks, which thrive in warmer climates.
Addressing global warming requires international cooperation and significant changes in how we produce and consume energy. The Paris Agreement, a global effort to combat climate change, aims to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, and to pursue efforts to limit the scorching temperatures increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
Achieving these goals will require transitioning to renewable energy sources, increasing energy efficiency, protecting and restoring forests, and developing technologies to remove CO2 from the atmosphere.