Temperature rise could breach 1.5ºC mark within five years, says WMO

People refresh themselves in Cordoba, Andalusia, Spain, during the heat wave that hits Spain with temperatures reaching up to 44-46ºC in some parts of the country, 14 August 2021. (KEYSTONE/EPA/Salas)

There is a growing chance that temperatures could surpass the 1.5ºC Paris goal between now and 2025.

The world could temporarily overshoot the 1.5ºC warming limit within the next five years, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said on Thursday. In its updated assessment of climate change, the UN weather agency said that “the scale of recent changes across the climate system as a whole are unprecedented over many centuries to many thousands of years.”

Countries agreed in 2015 to prevent an excess of 1.5°C – 2°C at most – compared to 19th century levels. However, global temperatures in the last five years have surpassed pre-industrial levels on average between 1.06ºC and 1.26ºC.

This summer, Europe hit record temperatures, with the Italian city of Sicily reaching 48.8°C. The Canadian town of Lytton also reached all-time highs of 46.6°C. Nuwaiseeb in Kuwait sweltered amid 53.2ºC. Worldwide, average temperatures in July 2021 were the highest on record.

While there is only a 10 per cent chance that the average temperature between now and 2025 will exceed 1.5°C, there is a 40 per cent chance of this occurring for one of those years.

Northern regions and the African Sahel could consequently experience higher rainfall in the next five years, according to the report.

Sea levels could rise as much as 0.6m by 2100 and 3.1m by 2300, forcing low-lying areas near bodies of water to adapt or be submerged. Melting ice sheets are causing much of this encroachment. This time last year, Arctic ice had melted to its second lowest extent on record.

Emissions reduction linked to decreased activity during the pandemic have barely made a dent in the rising temperature trajectory, the WMO reiterated.

“Throughout the pandemic we have heard that we must build back better to set humanity on a more sustainable path and to avoid the worst impacts of climate change on society and economies. This report shows that so far in 2021 we are not going in the right direction,” said WMO secretary-general Petteri Taalas.

The United in Science report is the latest of three collaborations of its kind between the WMO, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), the World Health Organization (WHO), the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the Global Carbon Project (GCP), the World Climate Research Programme (WCRP) and the Met Office (UK).

Human cost. Heat-related mortality and work impairment is rising as temperatures rise, the report indicates. These factors have caused the loss of 103 billion more potential work hours worldwide in 2019 than in 2000.

Pollution from emissions, which are driving climate change, are also impacting health severely. Air quality has become so bad that UNEP is calling for a global treaty to hold countries to higher standards.

Read also: ‘Global treaty on air quality needed, says UNEP’

This summer’s exceptionally destructive wildfires in the United States and floods in Europe show human-caused climate change in action, said the report.