World risks hitting 1.5 degree temperature threshold in coming 5 years

Published by Kayle Crosson on

10 July 2020

Global temperatures could exceed 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels by 2024, according to World Meteorological Organization projections. 

Between 2020 and 2024 there is a 20 per cent chance temperatures will surpass the 1.5 threshold in at least one year, the WMO said on Thursday. 

The international body also predict that there is roughly a 70 per cent chance that one or more months within this time frame will be “at least” 1.5 degrees warmer than pre-industrial levels and noted that “the chance is increasing with time”. 

The 1.5 degree increase is the warming limit set by the 2015 Paris Agreement and activists, scientists and leaders have repeatedly called for far-reaching, unprecedented action in order to keep temperatures to this figure. 

“The enormous challenge” 

According to WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas, the study indicates “the enormous challenge ahead in meeting the Paris Agreement on Climate Change target”. 

Other trends anticipated in the next five years include further detrimental Arctic warming, drier conditions in South America, southern Africa and Australia, and stronger storms in western Europe. 

The study did not take into account the changes in emissions of greenhouse gases and aerosols as a result of the Coronavirus lockdown, but any slowdown is “not a substitute for sustained and coordinated climate action”, according to Professor Taalas. 

“Due to the very long lifetime of CO2 in the atmosphere, the impact of the drop in emissions this year is not expected to lead to a reduction of CO2 atmospheric concentrations which are driving global temperature increases,” he said. 

The coupled health and economic crises that have resulted from the pandemic should be used as an opportunity for governments to “embrace climate action” as part of recovery packages to “ensure that we grow back better,” Professor Taalas added. 

Extinction Rebellion Ireland protest at Department for Climate Action July 2019 Photo: Kayle Crosson

Continued calls for systemic change 

The WMO’s assertion that far-reaching climate action is still very much needed in the wake of COVID-19 has been shared by recent national reports. 

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) found that if fully implemented and enacted early, the 2019 Climate Action Plan would meet existing EU climate targets but that systemic change is still required in order to ensure Ireland becomes a low-carbon society. 

The Irish economy now finds itself at a “pivotal point” and the state should focus on a green recovery to “rebuild our economy, generate new jobs and respond to climate change,” EPA Director General Laura Burke said. 

The Economic & Social Research Institute (ESRI) projected a 9.5 per cent emissions reduction for the state this year as a result of the pandemic, but found that Ireland would still fail to meet its 2030 climate targets in the absence of “systemic change”. 

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Kayle Crosson

Kayle is a multimedia journalist focused on climate and environmental issues and contributes to The Irish Times and The Green News.