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World may soon pass the crucial climate threshold of 1.5°C

Scientists warn that there's a 50% chance of the world reaching the safety limit of global warming by 2026. The probability has increased from 20% in 2020

The world is about to breach a crucial climate barrier.
The world is about to breach a crucial climate barrier. (Istockphoto)

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If the next eight years represent a crucial time for stopping climate change, then the stakes just got bigger. According to a new report from the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), there is now a 50% chance that world will cross a dangerous heat barrier by 2026. The Global Annual To Decadal Climate Update, prepared by scientists at the United Kingdom Met Office and released by the WMO, states that there is 50:50 chance that in at least one year between 2022-2026, the global average temperature will be 1.5 degree Celsius higher than pre-industrial (1850-1900) levels. This likelihood is up from 40% last year, and will continue to rise if the world continues using fossil fuels like oil and coal.

The report also states that there is a 93% likelihood of at least one year between 2022-2026 becoming the hottest year on record, dislodging the current hottest year—2016. There’s an equally high 93% chance that the five-year temperature average of 2022-2026 will be higher than 2017-2021. “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,” the WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas said in a statement. “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,” he added.

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To put this into perspective, the current global effort at climate change mitigation seeks to limit temperature rise to 1.5 degree Celsius by 2100. The world is currently nearly 1.1 degree Celsius hotter than pre-industrial times, and global carbon emissions remain at an all-time high. For the world to be successful at limiting global heating to 1.5 degree Celsius, global carbon emissions have to start declining by 2025, need to be cut by nearly half by 2030 and then lowered to zero by 2050.

Also Read: The current state of global climate action

However, as reports have shown, instead of decreasing, global emissions continue to rise. The latest scientific report from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has stated that in a best case scenario, average global temperature will exceed 1.5 degree Celsius before declining. A temporary overshoot of the limit will still result in some irreversible results, like coral reefs dying, but this is still infinitely better than the current global trajectory of a horrific 3 degrees of warming by 2100.

“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,” said climate scientist Leon Hermanson, who led the UK Met Office report. The WMO will release a detailed State Of The Climate report for 2021 on 18 May.

Also Read: What was achieved at the COP26 climate summit?

For Anjal Prakash, Research Director of Bharti Institute of Public Policy at the Indian School of Business, this report is another reminder that richer nations have to start delivering on both mitigation as well as climate finance. “I have been part of two IPCC reports, and what the WMO is saying isn’t shocking to me. What I’m more worried about is the lack of response. The science is out there, we know exactly what’s coming,” he tells Lounge.

He says that the need for climate justice is greater than ever, and that western nations disappointed everyone at the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow last year. “The entire narrative has been shifted to India and China, as if these countries should be demonised. What happened to the responsibility of the West for historical emissions? What happened to the promise of $100 billion every year in climate finance for developing countries? We have to focus on people who are at the receiving end of climate change. COP27 (in Cairo later this year) has to deliver on climate finance and green technology transfer.”

Also Read: Why we need to talk about climate change everyday

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