The next five years are almost certain to be sweltering, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) warned today. Climate change has already raised baseline temperatures for the planet. Now a weather pattern known as El Niño will make things even hotter when it unfolds later this year.
That double whammy of El Niño and climate change is expected to “push global temperatures into uncharted territory”, WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas saying in a press release today. “This will have far-reaching implications for health, food safety, water management and the environment. We need to be prepared”.
“We need to be prepared”.
There is a 98 percent chance that one of the next five years will be the warmest on record, according to a WMO report published today. There is also a 98 percent chance that the average temperature over the entire five-year period will be higher than the previous five years.
The planet already has a fever. The last eight years have been the hottest eight in the books, the The WMO reported in January. In just the last few years, we have witnessed the staggering damage that extreme temperatures can cause.
The most extreme summer heat wave ever recorded in North America deformed roads and caused a spike in emergency department visits in the US Pacific Northwest in 2021. China suffered its worst Strong heat wave registered last year. It was so widespread and long lasting (lasting more than 70 days) that it was also probably the most severe heat wave ever documented. in the world, according to the meteorologist Maximiliano Herrera. Another record heatwave in July last year saw temperatures in the notoriously cool and cloudy UK soar above 40 degrees Celsius for the first time, an event researchers deemed “virtually impossible” without the change. climate.
All of that abated despite the mitigating effects of a rare and unusually prolonged “triple dip” La Niña from September 2020 to March this year. Think of it as the opposite of El Niño; La Niña is a weather pattern that has a cooling effect on the planet.
Right now, without La Niña or El Niño, trade winds over the Pacific Ocean help push warm waters west from South America toward Asia. As that happens, cooler water rises from the depths of the ocean to the surface. Those trade winds weaken with El Niño, allowing warm water to flow east. The warmer water also pushes the Pacific Jet Stream, a fast-flowing current of air, southward, which can influence the weather.
El Niño is expected to take shape sometime between May and July and last through at least winter, according the Climate Prediction Center of the National Meteorological Service. It can take up to a year before El Niño starts to affect global temperatures, says the WMO, which could be 2024 in this case.
With El Niño likely to push the mercury up even higher than we have seen during persistent La Niña events in recent years, global temperatures could soon exceed a worrying benchmark. There is now a 66 percent chance that for at least one year between 2023 and 2027, the annual average global temperature will rise more than 1.5 degrees Celsius more than in the pre-industrial era (that is, before the burning of fuels fossils will create enough greenhouse gas pollution to warm the planet).
To be clear, 1.5 degrees of warming is a big deal. The Paris climate agreement strives to prevent the world from warming beyond that threshold. So far, the planet has warmed around 1.1 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, which is the main driver of the more extreme weather we’re already seeing today. There is still a small window of time to achieve that goal, as the WMO predicts that the world will only temporarily exceed the 1.5 degree target in the next five years.
“This report does not mean that we will permanently exceed the 1.5°C level specified in the Paris agreement, which refers to long-term warming over many years. However, WMO is sounding the alarm that we will temporarily exceed the 1.5°C level with increasing frequency,” Taalas said in the press release.
Not too long ago, in 2015, the probability of the world experiencing warming greater than 1.5 degrees Celsius was close to zero, according to the WMO. And in 2021, the probability was only 10 percent. But today we live in a different world, and without swift action to address climate change, it will continue to throw us much more trouble.