The Planet Is Crashing Towards Its Climate Change Limits, Says UN Report

Climate change has been a key factor in increasing the risk of wildfires, such as those recently seen in Australia and California. Lumppini/Shutterstock

Our chances of avoiding a full-blown climate crisis are looking increasingly slim, according to new data from the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO).

The annual global temperature is likely to be at least 1°C (1.8°F) warmer than pre-industrial levels in each of the coming five years and is likely to exceed 1.5°C (2.7°F) in at least one year between now and 2024. If these predictions are on the money, it looks increasingly unlikely the planet will be able to achieve the targets set by the Paris Agreement on Climate Change

“This study shows – with a high level of scientific skill – the enormous challenge ahead in meeting the Paris Agreement on Climate Change target of keeping a global temperature rise this century well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5°C,” Professor Petteri Taalas, Secretary-General of the WMO, said in a statement.

The data comes from the UN agency’s latest Global Annual to Decadal Climate Update, released on Thursday in Geneva, Switzerland. The report drew on the data and expertise from climate prediction groups from the UK, the US, Spain, Germany, Canada, China, Japan, Australia, Sweden, Norway, and Denmark.

Earth’s average global temperature is already over 1°C above the pre-industrial period. The Paris Agreement argued that Earth’s temperatures need to kept “well below” a 2°C increase, but the world should pursue efforts to limit it to 1.5°C. 

Now, it appears there’s a fair chance we will reach this 1.5°C limit in the next few years. As per the new data, researchers predict the global temperature will increase somewhere between 0.91-1.59°C above pre-industrial levels by 2024. However, there is approximately a 20 percent chance that one of the next five years will be at least 1.5°C warmer than pre-industrial levels. This chance is rapidly increasing as time goes on.

The Arctic is being hit harder by climate change than anywhere else in the world. Kris Grabiec

On top of this, the report stated the Arctic is likely to have warmed by more than twice as much as the global mean in 2020. This year will also see large parts of South America, southern Africa, and Australia become dryer than the recent past due to climate change. Increasing intensity and extent of storms in the North Atlantic are likely to affect the UK and Western Europe too. 

All of this data includes the recent reductions in greenhouse gas emissions seen during the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, which the researchers say was fairly negligible in the wider picture.

“WMO has repeatedly stressed that the industrial and economic slowdown from COVID-19 is not a substitute for sustained and coordinated climate action. Due to the very long lifetime of CO2 in the atmosphere, the impact of the drop in emissions this year is not expected to lead to a reduction of CO2 atmospheric concentrations which are driving global temperature increases,” said Professor Taalas.

“Whilst COVID-19 has caused a severe international health and economic crisis, failure to tackle climate change may threaten human well-being, ecosystems, and economies for centuries. Governments should use the opportunity to embrace climate action as part of recovery programs and ensure that we grow back better,” he added.

In simplest terms, the world can not afford to exceed the 1.5°C limit and head towards the 2°C limit. A world with 2°C of warming will be a planet without coral reefs, the threat of thousands of species going extinct, and increased risks of droughts, heat waves, and other extreme weather events. Beyond the natural world, we can also expect to see an increasing number of wars, large scale displacement of people, and a deepening of global poverty.

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