World Meteorological Organization forecasters said Wednesday that global temperatures are likely to rise to record highs over the next five years due to man-made warming and the climate pattern known as El Niño.
The record for the hottest year on Earth was set in 2016. The forecasters said there was a 98 percent chance that at least one of the next five years would exceed that record, while the 2023-27 average would almost certainly be the hottest year on Earth. Five-year period ever recorded.
“This will have far-reaching implications for health, food security, water management and the environment,” said Meteorological Organization Secretary General Peteri Taalas. “We need to prepare.”
Why it matters: Every part of a degree brings new risks.
Scientists say even modest increases in warming could exacerbate the dangers of heatwaves, wildfires, droughts and other disasters. Rising global temperatures in 2021 have caused a heat wave in the Pacific Northwest that broke local records and killed hundreds.
An El Niño event could cause further disruption due to changes in global precipitation patterns. The weather agency said it expected more summer rainfall over the next five years in regions such as Northern Europe and the Sahel in sub-Saharan Africa, while rainfall in the Amazon and parts of Australia would decrease.
The group reports that in one of the next five years, there is a two-thirds chance that the temperature will be 1.5 degrees Celsius and 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit higher than the 19th century average.
That doesn’t mean the world has formally broken the Paris Climate Agreement’s ambitious goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. When scientists talk about that temperature target, they usually mean long-term averages, say over 20 years, to eliminate the effects of natural variability.
Many world leaders have advocated a 1.5°C cap to limit the risks of climate change to acceptable levels. But countries have been too long behind in making the big changes needed to reach this goal, such as drastic cuts in fossil fuel emissions, and scientists now believe the world will likely be around the early 2030s. I think it will exceed that standard.
Background: The La Niña phenomenon, an effect of cooling, is ending.
The average global temperature has already increased by about 1.1 degrees Celsius since the 19th century, largely because humans continue to burn fossil fuels and release heat-trapping gases such as carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
However, although the overall upward trend is clear, natural variability can cause global temperatures to rise or fall somewhat from year to year. For example, the El Niño Southern Oscillation, a periodic phenomenon in the Pacific Ocean, causes interannual variations due to heat transfer in and out of deeper oceanic layers. Earth’s surface temperature tends to be somewhat cooler in La Niña years and somewhat warmer in El Niño years.
2016 was the year of El Niño, the last record heat wave. In contrast, La Niñas dominated for much of the last three years. Although unusually warm, it is still slightly below 2016 levels. Scientists now expect El Niño to return later this summer. Combined with steadily rising levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, temperatures are likely to accelerate to new highs.