To prevent climate catastrophe, experts agree we need to keep the global temperature rise below 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels by 2030 — among other goals — as part of the Paris Agreement. But just how likely are our chances of actually achieving this? According to a new report, global temperatures are set to hit that 1.5 degree-rise well before 2030, despite the coronavirus pandemic’s temporary effects on air pollution — but there's still hope for planet Earth.
The Global Annual to Decadal Climate Update, published by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the U.K.’s Meteorological Office, used data on how temperatures have changed in years past to make predictions about how the global temperature will change through the year 2024.
The report found that the annual average global temperature is likely to be at least 1 degree Celsius above pre-industrial levels (1850-1900) over the next five years. There is also a 20 percent chance that one of the next five years will be 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) hotter than pre-industrial levels — and that percentage is growing.
Additionally, there is a 70 percent chance that at least one month during the next 5 years will be at least 1.5 degrees Celsius hotter than pre-industrial levels. And, through 2024, nearly every region on Earth will be hotter than it's been in the “recent past,” with the exception of some parts of the southern oceans. The report also predicts that the Arctic will experience the most significant warming out of every region on the planet, and that the Atlantic basin will experience an increased risk of storms.
Now, what exactly does all this mean? According to Scientific American, these predictions are less catastrophic than they seem, as the global average temperature is not expected to significantly exceed 1.5 degrees Celsius over the next five years. However, there’s no guarantee of what will happen in the following five years, or the decades after that.
And according to WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas, this report means we need to keep working towards the goals as laid out by the Paris Agreement. In addition to limiting the global temperature rise, governments need to work towards net-zero carbon emissions. Each party to the Paris Agreement has different plans and years when they are aiming to accomplish these goals — but most countries still have a lot of work to do.
“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 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius,” Taalas said in a press release.
Taalas also took this opportunity to address the impacts of COVID-19 lockdowns on the environment. While at first, shut down cities were experiencing reduced greenhouse gases and pollution in the air, Taalas and the WMO are reminding people that those changes were very temporary.
“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,” Taalas continued.
“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," Taalas said, adding that it's important for governments to implement green recovery programs from the pandemic.
The climate scientists behind the Global Annual to Decadal Climate Update plan to update the report every year, with revised predictions for the coming half decade.
“This is an exciting new scientific capability,” Professor Adam Scaife, head of long range prediction at the U.K.’s Meteorological Office, said about the report. “As human-induced climate change grows, it is becoming even more important for governments and decision makers to understand the current climate risks on an annually-updated basis.”
There's a lot of work to do if we want to protect the planet we call home — and while the future is uncertain, predictions like the ones in this new annual report definitely help provide insight as to what the coming years may hold.