Less than seven years have passed since the Paris Agreement was signed, yet a new report suggests that the planet may already be on the verge of breaching one of the treaty’s key temperature limits for the first time. According to a document produced by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), there’s a roughly 50:50 that global temperatures will rise to 1.5°C (2.6°F) above pre-industrial levels at least once by 2026.
The 1.5°C threshold represents the lower boundary of acceptable increase across the planet, with almost all governments pledging to avoid a catastrophic rise of 2°C by the end of this century. Allowing the mercury to exceed these values will likely trigger a cascade of consequences for the world’s climate, including rising sea levels, increased droughts and wildfires, and more extreme weather events.
Drawing on data analysis from the world’s leading climate research centers, the WMO’s report predicts that global temperatures will fluctuate between 1.1 and 1.7°C above pre-industrial levels between 2022 and 2026, with a 48 percent chance that at least one year will break the 1.5°C limit.
“Our latest climate predictions show that continued global temperature rise will continue, with an even chance that one of the years between 2022 and 2026 will exceed 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels,” explained lead author Dr Leon Hermanson. “A single year of exceedance above 1.5°C does not mean we have breached the iconic threshold of the Paris Agreement, but it does reveal that we are edging ever closer to a situation where 1.5°C could be exceeded for an extended period.”
As recently as 2015, the chance of breaching this grim milestone was calculated at close to zero, yet that probability has since crept up at an alarming rate. In 2021, average global temperatures stood at 1.1°C above the baseline, and drastic action is now required to reduce emissions and halt the upward trend.
“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 WMO Secretary-General Professor Petteri Taalas.
“For as long as we continue to emit greenhouse gases, temperatures will continue to rise. And alongside that, our oceans will continue to become warmer and more acidic, sea ice and glaciers will continue to melt, sea level will continue to rise and our weather will become more extreme.”
According to the report, there is a 93 percent chance that at least one of the next five years will surpass 2016 as the hottest on record, while it is equally likely that the period 2022 to 2026 will be warmer than the preceding five-year period. Worryingly, the data suggests that the rise in Arctic temperatures will be around three times greater than the global average during this timeframe.
Given the role that the polar regions play in regulating Earth’s climate, the loss of Arctic sea ice is likely to have drastic knock-on effects, resulting in more unpredictable weather patterns and a rise in ocean temperatures. Summing up the danger to humanity, Professor Taalas explained that “Arctic warming is disproportionately high and what happens in the Arctic affects all of us.”