The 2015 Paris Climate Accord set the long-term 1.5°C warming threshold.(HT archive)
The 2015 Paris Climate Accord set the long-term 1.5°C warming threshold.(HT archive)

Key 1.5°C warming mark likely within 5 years

The figure is significant because most global leaders committed to taking actions that would limit global warming to 1.5°C and well below 2°C by the end of the century while signing the Paris Agreement in 2015.
By Jayashree Nandi, New Delhi
UPDATED ON MAY 28, 2021 12:58 AM IST

There is a 40% chance that the annual average global temperature will be 1.5 degrees Celsius higher than pre-industrial levels – a ceiling scientists have warned needs to be avoided to prevent devastating impacts of the climate crisis – in the next five years, the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) said in a report on Thursday.

The figure is significant because most global leaders committed to taking actions that would limit global warming to 1.5°C and well below 2°C by the end of the century while signing the Paris Agreement in 2015.

The findings of the report prompted Petteri Taalas, the WMO secretary general, to warn that the world was getting “measurably and inexorably” closer to the dangerous threshold. He underlined it was another wake-up call that the world needed to fast-track commitments to slash greenhouse gas emissions and achieve carbon neutrality.

The 2015 Paris Climate Accord set the long-term 1.5°C warming threshold. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), two years later, warned that a breach of the threshold will mark a menacing milestone in the planet’s warming. A 2018 IPCC report said limiting global warming below 1.5°C would require “rapid and far-reaching” transitions in all sectors. The global net human-caused carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions need to fall by about 45% from 2010 levels by 2030, reaching net zero around 2050, to avoid the ceiling.

The Paris accord seeks to limit global warming to well below 2, preferably to 1.5°C, compared to pre-industrial levels.

Every year from 2021 through 2025 is likely to be at least 1°C warmer, according to the study. The year 2016 has so far been the warmest. From 2021-2025, high latitude regions and the Sahel, the transition in Africa between the Sahara and the Sudanian savanna, are likely to be wetter, according to the report. There is an increased chance of more tropical cyclones in the Atlantic compared to the 1981-2010 average.

Taalas underlined these are more than just statistics and increasing temperatures mean more melting ice, higher sea levels, more heatwaves and other extreme weather, and greater impact on food security, health, environment, and sustainable development.

“This study shows – with a high level of scientific skill – that we are getting measurably and inexorably closer to the lower target of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change,” Taalas said.

Warming of the north Indian Ocean during the next five years, particularly the Arabian Sea, could make India even more vulnerable to deadly cyclones. Maps on surface temperature anomalies compared to 1981-2010 period show the Arabian Sea could be 0.5°-1°C warmer than the 29-year period.

“Now almost every year and every month are warmer than the earlier ones. 2020 was one of the warmest years. However, global warming does not stop at the global average temperature that we are highlighting here. I would bring the focus to the rapid warming in the ocean that is throwing in extreme weather events in recent decades. More than 93% of the additional heat from global warming is absorbed by the oceans. Among the oceans, some regions are warming quite rapidly. The long-term surface warming recorded in the western Indian Ocean region is in the range of 1.2°-1.4°C. This has a huge impact on the monsoon and severe weather events. The Arabian Sea (part of the western Indian Ocean) has become a warm pool that is now hosting more intense cyclones. Warmer ocean conditions are also resulting in the rapid intensification of cyclones,” said Roxy Mathew Koll, a climate scientist at the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology.

India’s average temperature has risen by around 0.7°C during 1901-2018. But sea surface temperature (SST) of the tropical Indian Ocean has risen by 1°C on average during 1951–2015, markedly higher than the global average SST warming of 0.7°C, over the same period according to “Assessment of Climate Change over the Indian Region”, a report of the ministry of earth sciences.

Last year was one of the three warmest years on record. The six years since 2015 have been the warmest on record. 2011-2020 was the warmest decade on record, the report highlighted. The latest WMO report said a decrease in the annual growth rate of CO2 concentration due to the Covid-19 lockdown will be practically indistinguishable.

More than 75% of Indian districts are hot spots for extreme climate events. On the east coast, more than 90% of districts are hot spots for cyclones, floods, droughts and their associated events; these districts are home to over 250 million people, according to an analysis by the Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW).

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