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Global warming set to break key 1.5C limit for first time

By Lee Cleveland - May 26, 2023

Scientists are predicting that our warming world is on track to surpass a crucial temperature limit for the first time in the next few years.

With a 66% chance of exceeding the 1.5C global warming threshold between now and 2027, the likelihood is increasing due to human-generated emissions and the potential occurrence of an El Niño weather pattern later this year.

If the world does surpass this limit, it is important to note that the breach, while concerning, is expected to be temporary.

Reaching the 1.5C threshold would mean that our planet is 1.5 degrees Celsius warmer than it was in the second half of the 19th Century, prior to the significant increase in fossil fuel emissions during the period of industrialization.

Breaking the limit, even if only for a year, serves as an alarming indication that global warming is accelerating rather than slowing down. The 1.5C mark has become a symbolic target in global climate change negotiations, with countries committing to making efforts to limit global temperature rises under the 2015 Paris Agreement.

Fact: Increases in temperature by just a degree or 2 (Fahrenheit or Celsius) can profoundly disrupt the environmental ecosystem. 

Consistently exceeding 1.5C over a decade or longer would have far-reaching consequences, such as prolonged heatwaves, intensified storms, and more frequent wildfires. However, surpassing the limit in the next few years would not necessarily mean that the Paris Agreement’s goal had been breached. Scientists emphasize that there is still time to mitigate global warming by significantly reducing emissions.

Since 2020, the World Meteorological Organization has been providing estimates on the chances of surpassing the 1.5C threshold in any given year. Initially, the likelihood was less than 20% for the subsequent five years. However, this probability has risen to 50% in the past year and now stands at 66%, indicating that it is “more likely than not” to occur.

It is important to understand that the 1.5C figure does not directly measure the Earth’s temperature but serves as an indicator of the extent of global warming compared to the long-term average. Scientists use average temperature data from 1850-1900 as a reference point for the world’s pre-industrial temperature.

For decades, it was believed that a 2C increase in temperature would be the threshold for dangerous impacts. However, revised estimates in 2018 demonstrated that surpassing 1.5C would have calamitous consequences.

Over the past few decades, our warming planet has steadily pushed temperatures upward. In 2016, the warmest year on record, global temperatures were 1.28C higher than the pre-industrial figure. Now, researchers are confident that this record will be broken, with a 98% certainty that it will happen before 2027. In the years leading up to that point, there is a significant chance that the 1.5C limit will be surpassed for the first time.

Professor Adam Scaife, Head of Long-Range Forecasts at the Met Office, highlights the significance of the situation, stating, “We really are now within reach of a temporary exceedance of 1.5C for the annual mean temperature, and that’s the first time in human history we’ve been that close.” However, he also emphasizes that the breach would need to be sustained for 20 years to indicate a permanent crossing of the Paris Agreement’s threshold.

While the report signals a concerning trend, it does not imply a permanent breach of the 1.5C level specified in the Paris Agreement. However, the World Meteorological Organization warns that temporary exceedances of the threshold will occur with increasing frequency.


Tags: Global WArming