Global temperatures likely to hit at least 1C warming for next five years

There is a one-in-five chance annual global temperatures will be at least 1.5C warmer than in pre-industrial times in the next five years, experts have said.

Annual global temperatures are likely to be at least 1C above the levels they were before the industrial era in each year between 2020 and 2024, a long-range forecast by experts led by the UK Met Office shows.

And there is a 20% likelihood that annual temperatures will exceed 1.5C above pre-industrial levels in at least one year, with the chances increasing over time, according to the analysis published by the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO).

Under the global Paris agreement countries have committed to keep temperature rises “well below” 2C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to curb them to 1.5C to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.

While experts say a single year exceeding 1.5C does not mean the targets have been breached, it shows how close to that level the world already is.

The forecast marks a new international collaboration coordinated by the WMO and led by the Met Office, drawing on analyses from climate prediction centres in the UK and nine other countries including Australia, the US and China.

The climate forecast also predicts there will be enhanced warming of the Arctic, compared to other regions of the world, and there will be an increased risk of storminess across the Atlantic Ocean. It also says that this year, many parts of South America, southern Africa and Australia are likely to be dryer than the recent past.

The Earth’s average temperature is already more than 1C over the pre-industrial era, and the last five-year period has been the warmest five years on record.

WMO secretary-general Petteri Taalas said: “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 2C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5C.”

Q&A How is climate change affecting the Arctic?
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The world may have warmed by around 1C (1.8F) over the past century but the Arctic far outstrips this global average and is warming at around twice the rate of the rest of the world.

In places, the rate of warming has been astonishing. Novembers in the Alaskan town of Utqiagvik, formerly Barrow, are now 5.5C warmer than they were in 1979. In the summer of 2019, an Arctic heatwave saw parts of Greenland reach temperatures 40C hotter than normal.

The Arctic is dominated by sea ice, unlike the Antarctic which is essentially a huge land-based ice sheet. As the ocean and atmosphere warm, sea ice is shrinking in extent, at around 13% a decade since 1979, according to Nasa. The bright white surface of ice, known as albedo, is giving way to the dark ocean, meaning that sunlight is being absorbed rather than reflected, amplifying the warming effect.

These “rapid” and “unprecedented” changes are transforming the Arctic and threatening traditional ways of life, according to US government scientists in a 2019 report card. The sea ice is younger, thinner, more fragile and less extensive, making hunting on the ice harder and more perilous. The marine ecosystem is shifting as warmer water forces fish species to retreat to more northern waters.

What is a major challenge to communities in the Arctic, is a boon to the shipping industry, which can navigate the area more easily. This task will get even simpler once the Arctic is ice free in summertimes, forecast as soon as 2040s.

The assessment takes into account natural variations as well as human influence on the climate to forecast temperature, rainfall and wind patterns over the next five years.

But it does not take into account changes to greenhouse gas emissions and aerosol pollution as a result of coronavirus lockdowns around the world.

Prof Taalas said the WMO had “repeatedly stressed” that the industrial and economic slowdown from Covid-19 was not a substitute for sustained and co-ordinated climate action.

Due to the long lifetime of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, this year’s emissions drop would not lead to a reduction in greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

He said: “Whilst Covid-19 has caused a severe international health and economic crisis, failure to tackle climate change may threaten human wellbeing, ecosystems and economies for centuries.

“Governments should use the opportunity to embrace climate action as part of recovery programmes and ensure that we grow back better.”

Climate spokesman for the Met Office Grahame Madge said temporarily exceeding 1.5C in one year did not mean the Paris targets were breached.

“But what it does show is how close 1.5C is to where we are at the moment,” he said.

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